CLEVELAND -- Indians rookie outfielder Oscar Mercado got off to as hot of a start in his big league career as any young player could ask for, hitting .314 with an .837 OPS over his first 39 games. But then, the calendar turned to July.
The 24-year-old went 1-for-25 (.040) to start the month, falling into his first slump in the Majors. Indians manager Terry Francona said prior to Monday’s game that he noticed Mercado taking longer, bigger swings, pressing to do more in each plate appearance. Later that night, the outfielder settled in for a three-hit game against the Tigers that helped lift his team to an 8-6 victory at Progressive Field.
“That was really fun to watch,” Francona said. “I said [before the game] that it’s probably not realistic a kid’s not gonna go through a hiccup or a bump in the road. Boy, did he come out of it tonight. He took some really good swings. He stayed more on balance, obviously, but man, that was fun to watch.”
Mercado singled in the first, then hit his first of two homers in the fifth to cut the Indians’ deficit to one. The Tigers tacked on another run in the sixth, but the Tribe answered with two in the bottom half of the frame to knot the game at 5 just before a 54-minute rain delay in the top of the seventh.
The break in action didn’t affect Mercado’s swing, as once play resumed, he broke the tie with a solo shot to left-center -- his first career multihomer game -- to give the Indians a 6-5 lead.
“It's difficult, especially because the game started with such beautiful weather, so we were not expecting [the rain] at all,” Mercado said. “I saw the grounds crew come up to Tito like, 'Hey, it's gonna rain for about 20 minutes but it's gonna be hard, so we're gonna have to pull the tarp.' I heard that and I was like, 'Oh, come on.' But no, it was good that we were able to keep our momentum going.”
Mercado’s first hit of the month came on Friday and snapped an 0-for-18 stretch. He then went hitless on Saturday before getting the majority of the day off Sunday. While he admittedly got down on himself a few times during the slump, he said his team was there to pick him up.
“They know what it's like,” Mercado said. “I had a lot of conversations with them the last few days, especially [Sunday], and they just kind of told me that's how it's going to go sometimes. You're not always going to be great or even good, but sometimes you gotta just bear down and grind though these situations.”
Ramirez heating up
Mercado isn’t the only Indians player to have battled through a slump this season. Third baseman Jose Ramirez has struggled at the plate since last August, but he’s started to find some consistency in his past 16 games. He’s hit .333 (20-60) with a .988 OPS and 11 RBIs during that span, including a 2-for-4 performance on Monday.
“The balls he hits hard, some of them have been foul,” Francona said. “Those are hits, but he’s not getting credit for it. He kept his hands in and kept the ball fair. His batting average isn’t gonna be very good for a while, but he’s starting to look more like Josey. My guess is, he’s gonna get better.”
Ramirez’s hit streak was extended to seven games in the win, a stretch during which he’s batted .349. He gave the Tribe some breathing room by doubling in a pair of runs after Mercado’s homer in the seventh. The Indians have gone 22-3 this season in games he has recorded an RBI.
Cancel the flight
Mike Freeman’s parents were in town for the Minnesota series over the weekend, so when Francona informed the utility player he’d be getting the start at second base in the opener against Detroit, his parents pushed their flight back to see their son play.
Despite his spotty playing time, Freeman immediately made it worth their while in his first at-bat -- his first plate appearance since July 4 -- by launching a two-run homer in the second. He then flashed some leather in the sixth, robbing Nicholas Castellanos of a hit by with a jump-throw up the middle.
“If you put your head down and find ways to create games within games in practice to keep yourself fresh, it's helped me out so far,” Freeman said. “And hopefully, I can help the team win some more games when I'm in the lineup. ... I was just trying to make sure it was worth the extra money to change their flights, so it worked out.”