May 10, 2013; Flushing, NY,USA; Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer (10) singles to left during the second inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Walking the Plank: Pirates should look to Jordy Mercer, Gerrit Cole soon

It’s time for this week’s edition of Walking the Plank. If you are a new reader of this column, it’s basically a place to hear me vent about all things good or bad that are currently going on with the Buccos. As always, I welcome any feedback you may have and I would like to thank the readers who took the time to drop me an email ([email protected]) or posting on Facebook. Keep the comments and questions coming!

Now, let’s Walk the Plank:

I want to start this week with something this week that has been driving me crazy. Why in the hell did the Pirates jettison Jordy Mercer back to Triple-A Indianapolis? Correct me if I’m wrong, but one of the most basic ingredients for a winning baseball team is to keep the best 25 players on the roster. That seems like a no brainer.

Apparently not to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who said this Sunday: “Jordy has a couple more options left but the main reason we are sending him down is so he can get regular playing time and continue to develop so we can see if he will be an internal candidate for shortstop in 2014.”

Really? Neal, what about the rest of 2013? All Mercer had done since being called up was play solid defense and contribute in a major way on offense. Now Neal, can you look me square in the eye and tell me John McDonald and his .065 batting average and his less-than-stellar defense in spot starts is going to help us win more games this year? You can’t, Neal.

All you are doing is sending the message to other young players in the organization that if you work hard and contribute to help the big club win games, your efforts will have been in vain because you still have options left for the minor leagues. I mean, does ANYBODY else think there would be a mad rush by all of the other MLB clubs to sign McDonald if the Pirates waived him?

So why isn’t Mercer being kept not just to sit on the bench, but to spell Walker and Barmes every few days? I don’t know, but you can’t tell me the experience that he is getting at Indy would be better for him then the experience he would have gotten by remaining with the Pirates. I’m just not buying that rationale.

The Pirates have a chance to win this year. Yes, a lot of things have to go just right for that to occur, but it is not impossible by any means. The Pirates did the right thing in cutting ties with Jonathan Sanchez. It’s time they do the same with McDonald and let Mercer keep earning his spot on the Bucco’s roster. 2014? Seriously, Neal?

  • I’d like to offer kudos to Bryan Morris for backing up his teammates and playing some “old school” baseball. Morris drilled the Mets’ Jordany Valdespin in retaliation for Valdespin’s slow, admiring trot around the bases of his meaningless home run off Pirates reliever Jose Contreras the night before. I also loved Mets manager Terry Collins’ reaction when he simply said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they throw at him the next time up”. Nice job, Bryan. Imagine back in the day having Valdespin do the same thing to Nolan Ryan? He would have been picking himself up off of the ground or adjusting his helmet to the correct side of his head after getting whacked by “The Express.”
  • Keep it up, Starling Marte. When I last wrote about you, I mentioned that your “power had not yet arrived.” Well, now you’re turning that on too. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you might just find yourself voted into the all-star game by Pirates fans. The thought of Marte and Andrew McCutchen patrolling the outfield for the next several years is something to be thankful for.
  • I really hate the Brewers. The Pirates have been on the short end of the Milwaukee stick for several years now. After the first two games of this series, it’s all even. I like the Pirates’ chances with Wandy Rodriguez on the hill tonight. He just seems like a more confident pitcher at PNC Park. I think that taking these last two games from the Brewers would be a huge boost for the team. I would love nothing more than to see the Pirate starters go deep into the next two games and give the bullpen some much-needed rest. I’d also love to see the Pirates bats come alive and smack the Brewers pitchers around and hang a lot of crooked numbers up on the PNC Park scoreboard.
  • At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t sure how the Garrett Jones/Gaby Sanchez platoon would work out. I have been happily surprised. Both players have solid numbers offensively and defensively. The Pirates have also had Jones playing in right field a few times to try to get both bats in the lineup. Here’s to hoping that as the weather heats up, so do both of their home run totals.
  • One thing that has me a little concerned lately is the number of walks Pirates pitchers are allowing and the number of errors and stolen bases as well. We all knew that coming into the year that the Pirates were not good at holding runners on base, but Russell Martin had helped the staff greatly improve on last year’s numbers. While he was out injured, it was not pretty. That’s no knock on Mike McKenry, but it will be nice to see Martin back to work again.

    May 7, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) runs the bases on his way to scoring a run against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning of an interleague game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

  • As far as the walks go, the Pirates pitchers need to go back to attacking the zone and trusting the defense will do the job. The Pirates definitely have more talent this year, but they need to play solid defensively for this team to win and win consistently. The pitching staff has enough on their minds to worry about. They need to know the other eight guys behind them are rocks and trust them.
  • Earlier, I spoke of Starling Marte possibly making the all-star game. The name most commonly floated with the Pirates and their all-star candidates is McCutchen. Based on this year’s stats however, that’s not a given by any means. Yes “Cutch” can heat up quickly, but as of right now, are his numbers worthy of All Star status? Not yet. Who is your pick for the Pirates? I’d love to hear your response and will keep everyone updated with the feedback I get.
  • One dilemma that is actually good for the Pirates is that they are about to have an abundance of starting pitching. Granted it was only one start, but Francisco Liriano looked worth the wait, and then add in a rehabbing Charlie Morton and Jeff Karstens. Now, this is most certainly not a given, June is coming and you have to throw Gerrit Cole’s name in the ring, too. While he is not overpowering Triple-A hitters, his record is solid at 3-1 with a 2.55 ERA with 31 Ks.
  • Good teams can never have too much good starting pitching. As a matter of fact, James McDonald is possibly being squeezed out of the picture. I find it difficult to think that he would clear waivers if sent down, but if these fresh arms that are headed to the ‘Burgh are able to produce up to their potential, the City of Champions may have seen its last of “King James.” I know at the beginning of the year that sounded crazy, and it still may, but he just hasn’t been that consistent starter the Pirates need.
  • If I looked into my crystal ball could I see a post all-star rotation that’s something like this: A.J. Burnett, Rodriguez, Liriano, Morton and Cole? You bet I could. Will we see it? Only time will tell.

Its May 15 and going into tonight’s game against the Brewers, the Pirates’ record stands at 22-17, 3 1/2 games behind first place. If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year if I thought the Bucs would have this good of a record at this point, I honestly could not have said yes.

While winning this series with the Brewers is definitely important, I think the next two series are going to be a more telling sign of the 2013 Pirates. The Cubs and Astros are coming into town. These are the type of series that good teams are expected to not only win, but dominate. The Pirates need to put their foot on the throttle and go on a run.

Tags: Gerrit Cole Jordy Mercer Pittsburgh Pirates Starling Marte

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