CLEVELAND -- The vagaries of a Major League baptismal have certainly been experienced by Jordy Mercer, who could be let out of the Pirates' reserves protection program for Sunday's series finale with the Indians.

The young infielder broke into the big leagues with a flourish, pinch-hitting the night he first joined the Bucs from Triple-A Indianapolis, then starting at shortstop two of the next three games. In the two weeks since the second of those two starts, on June 1, he has surfaced once, drawing a walk in a June 9 pinch-hit appearance.

"Maybe [Sunday] will be an option for Jordy," said manager Clint Hurdle, who has committed most of the starting time at the position to Clint Barmes. "I need to make sure Josh [Harrison] gets in a game first. So, yeah, it's been a challenge.

"If nothing else comes of it, the playing time has given him valuable experience. He's got a much better understanding of the game at this level. He gave us a nice look in a short window when he first got here. I thought he was much more comfortable than at any time during Spring Training, which was very good to see."

Then there's the invisible aspect of the breaking-in of Mercer, a prime candidate to be the Pirates' shortstop of the future: The time spent in the clubhouse getting to know his veteran teammates, and the daily routines of big league life.

Pitching reinforcements on the way to Bucs

CLEVELAND -- Changes, both short-term and long-term, could be coming to the Pirates, but not in the area that jumps out as the one needing the most help. Any offensive upgrade will have to come with the improved production of those already in-house.

On the other hand, the imminent conclusion of two pitchers' rehabs will trigger a minor shakeup of the staff.

According to manager Clint Hurdle, Chris Leroux could be two weeks away from returning from the strained pectoral muscle that has had him on the 60-day disabled list since April 3.

Jeff Karstens' return is penciled in for July 1. The right-hander's setback from a hip flexor tweak is considered minor enough that he is expected to make 80 pitches when he picks up his rehab assignment with Triple-A Altoona on Tuesday. Karstens' has been on the disabled list since mid-April with shoulder inflammation.

"It's not set that it'll be one-and-done. He might need two [rehab starts]," Hurdle said.

  • 142 wins
  • 110 wins
Brad Lincoln gets one more shot at earning rotation tenure with Sunday's start in Cleveland, following two starts in which he lasted a total of 8 1/3 innings and gave up nine runs and 15 hits. If Lincoln falters -- and with Karstens possibly still two weeks away -- interim help would have to come from elsewhere.

Hurdle felt it was too premature to speculate on Leroux's possible role when he is able to rejoin the bullpen near the end of the month.

"There are so many variables, with that 12-, 13-day window," the manager said. "How healthy are we? How many guys have options?"

Leroux is out of options, one reason the 28-year-old right-hander has a reserved seat, in addition to his 2011 effectiveness (2.88 ERA in 23 appearances). Those on the current staff with remaining options are Jared Hughes and Lincoln.

Worth noting

• Would the universe implode if the Pirates played the Dodgers on a Saturday? The Bucs improved to 9-2 on that day of the week, while the Dodgers took a 10-0 Saturday record into their Saturday night game with the White Sox.

• Pedro Alvarez's multi-homer game was the third of his career and first since July 21, 2010, when he enjoyed the second of consecutive two-homer games against the Brewers.

• The Pirates improved to 14-2 when they get 10-plus hits, 14-4 when Alvarez collects an RBI and 4-20 in their last 24 Interleague games on the road.

The Last Word
"He was in a rough place early. Sometimes, those things can send you the wrong way. But he stayed positive and focused."
-- Manager Clint Hurdle on Casey McGehee, who struck out with two men on in the first and hit into an inning-ending double play in the third -- but wound up Saturday driving in four runs, with a two-run homer and two-run single.