PITTSBURGH -- Outfielder Marlon Byrd relishes being involved in a pennant race.
"I was smelling the playoffs on my drive from New York here," said Byrd, who was acquired from the Mets on Aug. 27. "I've been close, but I've never been this close. Kind of in the lead this close to first, it's a different feeling here. These guys believe, they believed all year long, they believed the past two years and it's finally coming together this year. It's fun to be a part of, because this is a great group of guys, and they deserve it."
Byrd has hit safely in 14 of his 17 games with the Pirates, going 20-for-62 (.323) with two homers, including the game-winner in Saturday night's 2-1 win over the Cubs. He has 10 RBIs with the Bucs.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Byrd. "The numbers are real and we're in a pennant race, and he's hitting in the middle of the lineup. The plays he makes in right field, he's taking good angles, he's made a couple of good throws.
"He's a pro with a slow heartbeat, and I do think that he's been able to take a lot of whatever burdens that anybody might feed off. He's released some of that, and he's a grown man, he's 36 years old, and he's seen a lot and he's been through a lot. He welcomes that, and he shows up every day wanting to win and wanting to play and wanting to work."
Mercer building confidence while boosting Bucs at dish
PITTSBURGH -- Infielder Jordy Mercer has given the Pirates a spark offensively. He established a career high with four hits Tuesday in Texas and is hitting .304 (41-for-135) since the All-Star break, .429 (30-for-70) against left-handed pitchers this season, and .363 (41-for-113) in 27 games while batting second in the lineup. He was back in the No. 2 spot in the batting order for Sunday's finale against the Cubs.
"I don't know if there is a little bit of difference between the No. 2 spot and the eighth spot," Mercer said. "When you've got guys behind you, all you want to do is get on base, so you're trying to work counts and trying somehow to get on base, because you know those guys behind you are going to hit. And in the eight spot, I've got the pitcher behind me, so you've got to expand your zone a little bit, and you've got to work for some extra swings or some extra hits because the pitcher is behind you. It's a little bit different, but I guess average-wise it has just kind of fallen in place."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is pleased with the progress that Mercer has made
"Jordy has incrementally gotten better it seems each month," Hurdle said. "He's playing with confidence, and I think one thing that has worked well for him is his ability to strike the left-handed pitchers. He's done an exceptional job in the two spot, showed the ability to bunt and hit and run, and he's struck some balls well and rode a couple of balls out of the park. All in all it's a very good confidence-building year for him."
Mercer has tried to stay on an even keel.
"That's one of the mindsets I had going into this year, was just stay consistent and don't try to do too much," Mercer said. "I feel like if I do both of those things I can be successful, no matter what the circumstances are or what the situation is. If I stay with my approach and stay with the things I've been doing, I've been successful."
Mercer has flashed some leather at times this season.
"I feel like my defense has been my pride for a long time," Mercer said. "Working with the guy next to me, Clint Barmes, and taking ground balls with him every day and just picking his brain and just sitting back and watching him, you can learn a lot. I try to keep my ears open and try to ask a bunch of questions and learn some things and try to put them in my game, and so far it's been working out."
Facing live pitching, Marte working toward return
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said outfielder Starling Marte is close to getting into regular game action. The Pirates left fielder and leadoff hitter has been rehabbing a bruised right hand.
Marte faced live pitching prior to Saturday's 2-1 win over the Cubs when he faced lefty Kris Johnson. He also entered the game late as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
"We're working through some reps with some velocity, with some live arms -- two live-arm sessions, one with Wandy Rodriguez and one with Johnson," Hurdle said. "Today we're going to get him in the cage and crank up some velocity, and some spin as well. I think a little bit more of that, and I anticipate getting him involved in the Padres series somewhere along the line.
"We'll find out where we are, but I want to give him some weapons to go compete, the best we can. It's not going to be a perfect situation."
• Five of the last six runs scored by the Pirates have come by way of the solo home run. The Pirates have outhomered their opponents 60-31 at PNC Park this season.
• With Saturday night's 2-1 victory, the Pirates improved to 27-21 overall and 17-7 at PNC Park this season in games decided by one run. Only the Diamondbacks (31), Athletics (29) and Royals (28) have more one-run wins than the Bucs this season (the Yankees also have 27).
George Von Benko is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.