PITTSBURGH -- Jordy Mercer got his fourth start at shortstop on Sunday, after having delivered extra-base hits in his only two at-bats in the first two games of the Marlins series. But also because manager Clint Hurdle is intent on keeping Clint Barmes fresh for the stretch run.
"You do want to play on the success he's had the last two nights. Yeah, get the barrel of the bat on the ball a couple of times like he has, it gets my attention," Hurdle said of Mercer. "But Barmes also needs some time [off]."
For a similar reason, Michael McKenry was behind the plate, catching Jeff Karstens.
"I want Barmes and [Rod] Barajas to get ample rest, so they can stay strong," Hurdle said. "Those are two guys I've identified as key contributors defensively that we need to keep in play."
Neither Barmes (.207) nor Barajas (.215) makes his main contribution in the batters' box. But they are glues of the team's up-the-middle defense that has been so integral to its success. And the stat Hurdle is most interested in is the ages of Barmes, 33, and Barajas, 36.
To give Barmes that occasional blow, Mercer may emerge as the Bucs' Sunday special. He started for the second consecutive Sunday.
"He's gone from just working on things to having us try to find more playing time for him," Hurdle said of the 25-year-old who has totaled nearly two months on the big-league roster in two stints, but in all that time had collected only 20 plate appearances prior to Sunday's game.