Mercer continues learning the ropes

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jordy Mercer, a young Major League player in terms of service time, if not of playing time, goes through his second big league Spring Training camp with obvious confidence. Especially in the batter's box, where he exhibits the kind of aggressive approach not seen last year.

"I'm a lot more relaxed, a lot calmer," Mercer said. "Skip [manager Clint Hurdle] always talks about 'slow heartbeat' and I'm trying to do that, just let everything come to me without trying to overdo it, and just enjoy it, have fun with it."

Mercer is putting his strange 2012 big league baptismal to good use. Much of the season, he was the Pirates' designated sitter. Mercer spent 118 days in a Pirates uniform -- two-thirds of the season -- and in all that time was given 62 at-bats.

He was also given an education, and that was the plan for someone the club considers the heir apparent to Clint Barmes at shortstop.

"I gained a lot of experience. I don't think I'd be where I am now if I didn't go up there for the experience," he said. "It wasn't necessarily the playing, but just being around the atmosphere, going to the big stadiums. The whole thing. That meant so much.

"When I first got there [late May] they threw me in some games so I got to play right away, then they sent me back [to Triple-A Indianapolis in mid-June]. So I got to reflect a little bit and when I got back could watch others plays, pick everybody's brain, learn the ropes."

This spring, he has been hitting them. He is 4-for-9 (with three walks upping his on-base percentage to .583) and everything he has hit, including the outs, has been hard.