CLEVELAND --- After hitting the ground running when he was promoted from Triple-A Columbus, rookie center fielder Oscar Mercado has hit a wall -- offensively and defensively.
In five games in July through Friday, Mercado had produced only an infield single over 22 at-bats, striking out six times over the span. The mini-slump had dropped his season average from .314 to .280.
“He’s going to go through things for the first time,” manager Terry Francona said of Mercado, who had only played in 44 games on the major league level through Friday. “I tried to remind him the other day because he was getting a little frustrated. But he got a bunt down, they ended up giving him an error, but he was at second base and he was smiling from ear to ear. I said, ‘You don’t always have to get hits to help us win. You have to take satisfaction in doing things to help us win.’ And I said, ‘It was obvious you did because you were smiling.’ He was happy as hell. It was an error. But he got the bunt down and got a sac out of it and then moved up. Those are things that they’re learning to do.
“When they’re in the minor leagues they’re working their way here. When they get here, all of a sudden the focus has to be on, ‘Hey, what can I do to help this team win tonight?’ You can’t expect it to change overnight. It’s not fair to the young players.”
The speedy Mercado has looked all right in center, but he took a step back in a pivotal situation in the series opener against Minnesota on Friday, misreading a drive from Jorge Polanco that went for a two-run double and scored the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning.
“With more experience, he’s got the tools to be a really good, not just center fielder, but outfielder,” Francona said. “If he ends up being our center fielder, good. He could be our left fielder, he could be our right fielder.
“I just think with experience, things like that won’t happen as often. Nobody is going to be perfect. We try to stay on him without beating him up, but we do want guys to get better. He’s a really conscientious kid. He’s doing OK. He’s holding his own.”
Outfielder Tyler Naquin was out of the lineup for the second straight day after tweaking his back while getting out of a car following the team’s workout Thursday at Progressive Field.
Naquin took batting practice and may have been available to pinch hit.
“It’s one of those where if you see him in the game, you know he’s feeling pretty good,” Francona said. “I don’t want to undo something that shouldn’t be lingering and make it linger out of impatience.”
Jose Ramirez entered Saturday batting .333 (16-for-48) with a .400 on-base percentage, .563 slugging percentage and .963 OPS over his last 13 games. He has six multihit games over the span and has raised his average from .202 to .221 through Friday.
“I don’t think the game’s ever been too fast for him, that’s the one thing,” Francona said. “I do think he’s keeping more balls fair. (Friday night), he hit one a ton and it was foul. That’s one of his hits, but it was foul. When he squares up balls like that, if he can keep them fair, that’s when you’re really gonna see the damage from him.”
Right-hander Adam Plutko will start Monday’s series opener against Detroit. It will be his first outing since June 28 in Baltimore.
“The last day in Cincinnati (last Sunday), he simulated four innings when we were hitting, because we didn’t want Trevor (Bauer) thinking somebody was up throwing,” said of Plutko, who is 3-1 with a 4.95 ERA in seven appearances (six starts) for the Indians. “So he simulated four innings that day and then he went home and he simulated 90 pitches. He’s done a really good job of trying to stay ready. And then he threw that long (outing), 90-something pitches, in Baltimore. So he actually should be OK.”
Catcher Roberto Perez entered Saturday batting .314 (27-for-86) with nine homers and 20 RBIs over his last 24 games since June 1. ... The Indians’ .265 batting average at home since 2013 was tied for fifth-best in the majors and third-best in the AL through Friday. Their .337 on-base percentage was tied for third-best in the majors. ... Sunday, 1:10, STO, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM. Bieber (8-3 3.45) vs. Berrios (8-5, 3.00).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.