WASHINGTON -- Neil Walker's return to second base signified Jordy Mercer's return to shortstop -- and Clint Barmes' return to the bench. Sticking with the younger player underscored the Pirates' commitment to Mercer, who in many ways had been outplayed by Barmes in the nearly two weeks they shared the lineup.
Since Walker's injury turned them into double-play partners on July 8, Barmes hit .333 to Mercer's .270. As for playing the field, Barmes left a lasting reminder of his defensive wizardry in Monday's 6-5 series-opening victory, when he ranged all over the hole for eight assists.
"He was an experienced shortstop playing the game he needed to play to win a one-run game," saluted Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "It's what he does, the difference he can make in the middle of the diamond. And he makes it look easy."
Nothing easy about returning to the bench for the 34-year-old, but he has the satisfaction of knowing he had played -- or, rather, hit -- his way back into the team's core.
"He had probably his best two weeks of the season offensively, so he is confident in the box," Hurdle said. "And the fielding part speaks for itself. He'll still get starts at shortstop. I'm not going to say 'Jordy is our shortstop.' We just need to be smart about how we play both."
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.