Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer likely make final PNC Park appearance as Pirates
With only one week left on his contract, shortstop Jordy Mercer called Sunday’s get-together with the Milwaukee Brewers — the last one at PNC Park for the noncontending Pittsburgh Pirates — just “another game.”
Second baseman Josh Harrison said he hadn’t thought about the possibility of not returning next season.
Yet, what happened in the eighth inning of the Pirates’ 13-6 loss to the Brewers was something neither of them will forget.
Neither player is in the Pirates’ plans for 2019. So, manager Clint Hurdle replaced both of them with Adam Frazier and Kevin Newman in the middle of the inning, giving them a chance to trot off the field for the final time, wave to the cheering fans and put a proper punctuation mark on their Pirates’ careers.
Both men have been with the team for the better part of 10 years. Mercer was the team’s 2008 third-round draft choice and he never left. Harrison came to Pirates in a 2009 trade with the Chicago Cubs.
Both left their marks.
“They made the place better,” Hurdle said. “There’ll be a day when you walk out, for every one of us. And one of the things you want to hold onto and strive for while you’re here is to make it better than when you came in. They both made it better than when they came in.”
“They played a huge role on our good teams,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “They are both outstanding people. They’ve been great teammates.”
Mercer and Harrison were in the starting lineup together Sunday, a rare occurrence in recent weeks. They made the most of it, hitting back-to-back two-run doubles in the fifth inning.
“It was kind of cool for me and him to see it through with each other,” said Harrison, who lost a good friend in the off-season when Andrew McCutchen was traded to the San Francisco Giants. “It could be worse. We could be here by ourselves.”
Before Sunday, Mercer had played in just six games in September (1 for 23 at the plate). Nursing a sore hamstring, Harrison had participated in four (2 for 13). Neither had played since Tuesday.
Mercer, 32, said he has enjoyed helping mentor young infielders Newman and Kevin Kramer.
“It’s fun because I’ve been in their shoes before,” he said.
But he’s played an average of 129 games since 2013, including a total of 114 this season, and he believes he still can contribute to the Pirates or another team.
“This last month is a little different story for me, but I’m enjoying it,” he said. “Hopefully, I can get back on the field at some point and continue to play every day.
“(Sitting is) not a lot of fun, especially when you know you can still play. That’s the biggest thing. I still can play. I still can put up some good numbers and play pretty well.”
Before Sunday, Mercer was hitting .249, with six home runs and 37 RBIs, slightly off his average output since he became a regular in 2013 (.257/9.6/46.6).
Mercer said he is open to coming back, but it’s too early to know how the offseason will develop.
“You never know what the market’s going to do,” he said. “You don’t know what’s in front of you. I’m leaving all options open, no doubt.”
He believes the Pirates have the nucleus of a team that can contend next year, but he said it needs to fill at least one hole in the offseason.
“We’ve always had good players. It’s just a matter of putting it together,” he said. “I feel like for us to make that next step, we need somebody to come in and be able to bop, like hit some homers. But for the most part, we have a lot of pieces in place.”
Harrison, 31, looks at his lack of playing time differently. He knows the only way he can go into the offseason healthy is to rest the hamstring as much as possible.
“If I was completely healthy, 100 percent, I think (sitting) would be tougher,” he said.
He said the hamstring doesn’t prevent him from playing, but he added, “I know with these things, they do need rest. I can play on it. It’s fine.
“It’s one of those things, given the situation, the state we’re in as a team, these (young) guys get a chance to play. For me, I get to take a step back and know I’m going to go into the offseason healthy, which is No. 1.”
With a salary of $10.5 million next season (second-highest on the team behind Francisco Cervelli), Harrison will be replaced by less expensive alternatives.
Already, Adam Frazier, who is earning $571,000 this season, has improved his glove work at second base while starting 44 games there. Frazier is hitting .291, but since he was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on July 25, he’s hitting .335 with seven homers and 27 RBIs.
Harrison shared a ride to work with Corey Dickerson on Sunday morning, but he didn’t think about it being his last as a Pirate.
Speaking before the game, he allowed such a thought could enter his mind later as he boarded a bus for the airport and put PNC Park in the rear-view mirror.The Pirates will end the season with a two-city road trip, starting Monday with four games in Chicago and ending with three in Cincinnati.
“I’m sure as we make that last little bus ride from here to the airport, I’ll probably be like, ‘Hey, this could be it. You never know.’
“But I don’t want to dwell too much on any of that because it takes away from the present, being with my guys.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.