03/04/2013 5:01 PM ET
Mercer continues learning the ropes
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
"I'm a lot more relaxed, a lot calmer," Mercer said. "Skip [manager Clint Hurdle] always talks about 'slow heartbeat' and I'm trying to do that, just let everything come to me without trying to overdo it, and just enjoy it, have fun with it."
Mercer is putting his strange 2012 big league baptismal to good use. Much of the season, he was the Pirates' designated sitter. Mercer spent 118 days in a Pirates uniform -- two-thirds of the season -- and in all that time was given 62 at-bats.
He was also given an education, and that was the plan for someone the club considers the heir apparent to Clint Barmes at shortstop.
"I gained a lot of experience. I don't think I'd be where I am now if I didn't go up there for the experience," he said. "It wasn't necessarily the playing, but just being around the atmosphere, going to the big stadiums. The whole thing. That meant so much.
"When I first got there [late May] they threw me in some games so I got to play right away, then they sent me back [to Triple-A Indianapolis in mid-June]. So I got to reflect a little bit and when I got back could watch others plays, pick everybody's brain, learn the ropes."
This spring, he has been hitting them. He is 4-for-9 (with three walks upping his on-base percentage to .583) and everything he has hit, including the outs, has been hard.
Dungy delivers pre-workout speech to Pirates
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Don't blame Tony Dungy for the Pirates getting one-hit on Monday.
Dungy delivered an impassioned pre-workout locker room speech to the Bucs in the morning, and his inspirational and motivational message can still have a delayed effect on the club.
By all accounts, the young Pirates players hung on every one of the words of Dungy, who had begun his Super Bowl-winning coaching career as an assistant with the Steelers, for whom he'd been a defensive back and emergency quarterback in the late '70s.
Dungy, of course, visited the Bucs at the invitation of manager Clint Hurdle, who came in touch with him during his tenure in Colorado through Keli McGregor, the Rockies' president.
"We've spent a lot of time in conversation since then, talking about a number of topics," Hurdle said. "He's a very professional guy, a very powerful man, and I thought it'd be a very good opportunity to re-connect him with the city of Pittsburgh and bring him in to share some of his thoughts on leadership and about competing, and about accountability. It was a very good message to impart [to our players]."
Burnett focused on strikes, not walks
BRADENTON, Fla. -- A.J. Burnett's second start of the spring was mostly spoiled by consecutive walks with the bases loaded. However, the Pirates' Opening Day starter was more concerned with strike one than with ball four.
"I'm more upset with strike one," Burnett said after having faced 11 men and delivered an opening strike to only seven of them to begin the Bucs' 5-0 loss to the Phillies. "Walks, I can deal with that."
That includes those to Humberto Quintero and Ben Revere that forced in runs during Philadelphia's four-run second inning -- helping reset Burnett's record at 0-2 and his ERA at 13.50.
"You want good results, so I'm not happy with it," said Burnett, who began involving his curveball in his repertoire, but on a very limited basis. "I've done this long enough to know it's Spring Training. I felt like I was supposed to feel. At the same time, you want to do well."
That he hadn't -- cause for worry?
Burnett smirked and came right back with, "I'm worried about April 1," Opening Day.
"Hey, at least you're pitching in the spring this year. So you're way ahead." -- Hurdle on giving a second-inning hook to A.J. Burnett, whose ERA ballooned to 13.50 as he allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings, but who a year ago was nursing an orbital bone fractured by a fouled-off bunt.
• Southpaw Wandy Rodriguez's final pre-World Baseball Classic tuneup went well, holding the Phillies to two hits and an unearned run for three innings, looking uncommonly sharp for so early.
Hurdle had a theory: "I think Wandy is really amped to go pitch for the Dominican."
• Chris Leroux, originally scheduled to pitch against the Phillies, instead threw in Pirate City for his final workout prior to departing for Classic play.
"If A.J. and Wandy went deep," pitching coach Ray Searage said of the first two pitchers lined up to face the Phillies, "we didn't want Chris to get short-changed. This was the sure way to handle it."
• Francisco Liriano (fractured non-throwing arm) and Jose Contreras (Tommy John surgery) are still limited to stretching out by playing long-toss. Neither has thrown yet off a mound in camp, Searage clarified -- although Contreras had done that prior to being signed to a Minor League deal by the Pirates on Feb. 13.
• Hurdle indicated his staff will huddle later this week over possible squad cuts, and the first will come after the weekend. The Pirates still have 62 players in camp, including the four (Jason Grilli, Jameson Taillon, Rodriguez and Leroux) who will be on Classic sabbatical.
• Members of the Pirates' 2012 Dominican Summer League champions hopped over from Minor League camp in Pirate City to McKechnie Field, where in pregame ceremonies they received their rings and congratulatory handshakes from club president Frank Coonelly, assistant GM Kyle Stark and, in a true sign that they have arrived, the Pirate Parrot.
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.