Mercer-vs.-lefty could be preview of season

SS leads off against Price as Hurdle zeros in on lineup plan

Mercer-vs.-lefty could be preview of season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nobody has told Jordy Mercer he'll be the Pirates' leadoff man against left-handed pitchers this season, he said, but his spot on Friday night's lineup card, in a 6-3 loss to the Red Sox, may have said enough.

With the Pirates set to play three straight night games this weekend, manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday he would send out regular-season-ready lineups. He even wanted to play the platoons, writing out different lineups against right-handers and lefties.

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"I kind of had a feeling, just the way the lineup is," the righty-hitting Mercer said Friday afternoon. "I hit lefties really well. You get more opportunities against a lefty leading off."

That began Friday night at JetBlue Park against Red Sox left-hander David Price, and Mercer, who finished 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, was atop Pittsburgh's batting order.

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"We've been waiting to get a left-hander to get him up there. He's still working on some things," Hurdle said. "It's something we want to look at just based on his volume of work against left-handed pitching and the history of it. Hopefully we get a couple more looks at it."

Indeed, Mercer is a career .324/.374/.490 hitter against left-handed pitchers. Lefty-swinging John Jaso owns a career .368 on-base percentage versus right-handers, and he's expected to lead off against when opponents start a righty this season.

"I think it's just knowing the game. The first thing that comes to mind being a leadoff guy is just getting on base somehow, some way," Mercer said. "With the guys behind you, you could be running all day. I'm not going to really change anything."

Mercer has started only one game in the leadoff spot: last season, July 12, against the Cardinals, who started lefty Tim Cooney. He went 2-for-5, scored a run and saw 21 pitches in five plate appearances.

He has been a productive hitter batting second, posting a career .332/.366/.511 line over 60 games in that spot. Most of those at-bats came in front of Andrew McCutchen -- which is fitting, because McCutchen is expected to bat second for the Pirates this season.

"The first at-bat's obviously going to be different, because you're leading the game, but other than that, all the at-bats kind of are the same," Mercer said. "It's just a place in the order. Just try to get on base, because you know you've got guys behind you that can hit."

Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison were the Pirates' primary leadoff men last season. They're expected to move down to the middle of the order this year, so their speed on the bases might play better if they're not concerned about running into an out while McCutchen is at the plate.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.