PITTSBURGH -- Jordy Mercer, the 25-year-old shortstop who has spent more time on the Pirates' bench than any player this season, is receiving the classic apprenticeship accorded to an anticipated future mainstay. Mercer was in the lineup for Wednesday night's clash with the Dodgers and their ace lefty, Clayton Kershaw, but it was only his eighth start on his 47th day on the Bucs' Major League roster. He has been used as a late-game defensive replacement 13 other times, but clearly his chief assignment has been to observe and to absorb. Also, to be observed. The Pirates obviously consider Mercer the heir apparent to the job currently being held by Clint Barmes, who does have a year remaining on the two-year contract he signed as a free agent last winter.
Mercer has shown good instincts in the field, along with a strong arm and range. The lack of consistent at-bats has kept him from making an offensive impression, but he has occasionally flashed the talents that enabled him to hit .287 in 56 games with Triple-A Indianapolis around his two stints with the big league club. Mercer's play and work habits have left Pirates manager Clint Hurdle confident of the 2008 third-round Draft choice's future. "There's room for improvement," Hurdle said, "but we're seeing the signs -- defensive presence, enough arm strength, nice ball handling, a guy who competes in the batter's box -- to make everyone optimistic he can be a Major League shortstop down the road here in Pittsburgh."