MILWAUKEE -- As a part-time shortstop last season, Jordy Mercer put up some impressive offense -- numbers compelling enough for the Pirates to give him the everyday job, an acknowledged tradeoff for the peerless defense Clint Barmes had provided.
A week-and-a-half into this season, the blueprint hasn't been followed. Mercer is off to a slow start with the bat, entering Saturday night's game batting .138 (4-for-29), without an extra base hit.
Manager Clint Hurdle attributed Mercer's early difficulties to the change in roles. He's seen it before: When success is a luxury, it is a lot easier to achieve than when it is expected.
"Last season, when he was filling in and spotting up, his confidence grew throughout the season," Hurdle said. "Now you're in a different situation ... you're the top-tier shortstop, the guy getting the reps.
"That has challenged a lot of young players. He's not the first one, and he is growing through the experience. He has not taken his bat on the field, and has shown professional awareness of what he needs to do, separating the bat and the glove."
In his quest to get some offensive momentum, Mercer has also missed the encounters with left-handed pitchers, against whom he had success last season. As the season progressed, he became a quasi-regular against southpaws, whom he hit at a .410 rate (compared to .247 versus righties). So far this season, Mercer had had precisely one at-bat against a left-hander.
McCutchen returns to Pirates' lineup after short hiatus
MILWAUKEE -- Andrew McCutchen's absence with a "nagging thing" in his left ankle lasted one inning.
The reigning National League MVP was penciled back in the Pirates' lineup for Saturday night, after having removed himself in the eighth inning of the previous night's game against the Brewers. McCutchen slightly turned his ankle while swinging and making contact for the inning's final out.
"It's just something that nags you sometimes. I don't know what might have set it off," McCutchen said. "But I feel fine. It doesn't bother me today. It doesn't hinder me at all."
Upon his removal on Friday night, McCutchen underwent an X-ray -- which is routine under such circumstances. He had a thorough early-afternoon workout on Saturday before manager Clint Hurdle inserted him in the lineup in his usual No. 3 spot.
"He went out and did all the testing he could," Hurdle said. "He ran on the field, did turns, ran the outfield routes, things like that. Hit in the cage. The doctor re-looked at him. He feels comfortable and confident he'll be able to play."
McCutchen compared the discomfort he felt to someone occasionally waking up with a sore back.
"You get up and say, 'Oh, my back hurts.' And a few minutes later it doesn't hurt anymore," McCutchen said. "Yesterday, I just came out as a precaution."
First number, last word
17: Consecutive scoreless appearances by Jason Grilli against the Brewers, since June 7, 2008 and prior to Saturday night's game.
"After spending time with that guy, there's no reason to believe there'd be anything he couldn't do. Bowl 300, hole-in-one … the Tour de France, yellow shirt. He's one of the most gifted athletes. He could do anything he put his mind to." - Hurdle, upon being told that one of his former Colorado players, Larry Walker, had bowled a perfect game.
• Through their first nine games, the Pirates had scored 24 of their total of 41 runs after the sixth inning -- helping explain why relievers owned four of their six victories. The only starter with a victory entering Saturday night's game was Gerrit Cole, who has two.
• It will be a source of growing fascination to see how long Pirates staff can resist the Gregory Polanco temptation, if his assault on Triple-A pitching continues. Through Friday, Polanco was hitting .441 (15-for-34) for Indianapolis, with only three strikeouts in those 34 at-bats.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.