PITTSBURGH -- Manager Clint Hurdle was referring only to stature, not status, when he recently compared Jordy Mercer with Cal Ripken Jr., so no need to call the sacrilege police. Hurdle recalled the debate over whether the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Ripken was too big for the defensive agility demanded by the shortstop position, and applied the lesson to the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Mercer.
"We all know where the Ripken argument went. If you can play shortstop, you can play shortstop. Jordy has shown to me he can play shortstop," Hurdle concluded.
However, there is another possible basis for comparison not many have touched on: Before dramatically redefining shortstop as an offensive position, Ripken struggled mightily.
In his Major League introduction, in 1981, Ripken went 5-for-39 in 23 games with the Orioles, without an RBI and with an OPS of .278. Carried over to the start of the 1982 season, Ripken hit .125 in his first 39 big league games and drove in four runs.
The only moral here is that Mercer's slow start with the bat this season, his first as the Bucs' starting shortstop, is hardly unique.
Now Mercer is beginning to be able to discuss the rough getaway in the past tense. He posted his first three-hit game of the season on Friday night and entered Saturday night's game vs. the Cardinals with five hits in his last 14 at-bats.
"It was absolutely good to see," Hurdle said of Mercer's contributions to the 6-4 win in the opener of the series against the Cardinals. "It's been tough sledding for Jordy. Hopefully, that kind of a night can settle him down."
"Things are starting to click a little bit for me," said Mercer, who attributes the turnaround to sticking to a consistent approach. "When you struggle, you always want to do 'more, more, more,' and that's not the right way to go about it. Ultimately, with results your confidence goes up."
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.