By John Perrotto
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates are likely to have more players than roster spots by some point next week.
Third baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer are scheduled to begin rehab assignments on Tuesday night with Class AAA Indianapolis as they work their way back from the disabled list.
Harrison has been out since June 6 after tearing a ligament in his left thumb and undergoing surgery. Mercer has been shelved since July 20 with a sprained left knee.
The Pirates have not put a specific timetable on when they expect the duo to return, though they do want both players to get at least 20 plate appearances and show they can play nine innings on consecutive days.
That leads to the question of what the Pirates will do once they get the starting left side of their infield back because the loss of neither Harrison nor Mercer has been costly. The Pirates are 18-10 since Harrison was injured and 12-6 without Mercer.
Furthermore, neither player is having an outstanding season as Harrison is hitting .279 with four home runs and a .697 OPS in 75 games and Mercer has a .242 batting average, two home runs and a .604 in 80 games.
The new left side of the Pirates’ infield is doing well.
Third baseman Aramis Ramirez has heated up, going 7-for-17 in his last games. That comes after he went 4-for-34 in his first eight games following his acquisition from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade July 23.
Kang continues his stealth candidacy for National League Rookie of the Year as he is hitting .293 with nine home runs and an .821 OSP in 93 games. He also has had multiple hits in 10 of his last 18 games.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle won’t tip his hand on what his plan once Harrison and Mercer return.
However, a source with knowledge of the Pirates’ thinking said that Kang will definitely stay in the lineup on a near-regular basis, playing primarily third base with Mercer remaining the everyday shortstop because that provides the best defensive alignment.
Harrison, meanwhile, will go back to the super utility role that he so well last season when he finished second in the NL batting race with a .317 average. He will play regularly, moving around the diamond as the Pirates look to continue their plan of giving their starting position players more days off this season.
Ramirez, meanwhile, will give the Pirates a second right-handed power threat to pair on the bench with Michael Morse, the first baseman/outfielder acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a July 31 trade.