PITTSBURGH -- The lineup Clint Hurdle sent out to face Johnny Cueto and the Reds on Tuesday night is, by and large, what has been the standard lineup used down the stretch, after the trades that brought Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh. Perhaps the one spot that could have been up for discussion was at shortstop, with the choice between the glove and veteran presence of Clint Barmes or the offensive upside of Jordy Mercer.
There were a number of reasons Hurdle went with Barmes, not the least of which is having a quality glove at that premium position can be crucial, especially in the postseason.
"For us older men, we always talked about the strength of the ballclub being up the middle with your catcher, your second baseman, your shortstop and your center fielder," Hurdle said. "He's given us that opportunity to be stronger."
Barmes began the season as the everyday shortstop in Pittsburgh, but Mercer gradually ate into his playing time as the Pirates sought to get a little more offense from the spot. Rather than show bitterness, Barmes worked tirelessly with Mercer to help him improve the defensive side of his game.
"He has gotten outside of himself to spend hour upon hour in helping Jordy along the way," Hurdle said. "Jordy has become a much better shortstop because of Clint's selflessness. [He] got some experience, knows the value of an out, strengthened us up the middle."
Barmes did receive more of the playing time at short down the stretch, and it's likely to continue as the postseason continues if the Pirates advance. Mercer would probably get any starts against left-handed pitching, but with no lefties in the Cardinals' rotation, his role should continue as a backup and pinch-hitting possibility until the National League Championship Series. It won't be because of Barmes' bat -- he hit just .174 in September -- but he has the ability to change the game with his glove.
"We use the word a lot in the game, 'impact,'" Hurdle said. "Barmes has been an impact defender for us. Those that have watched our club throughout the season, there's games when he makes plays that nobody else we have can make."