PITTSBURGH -- Typically, the Pirates promote their top prospects to play. Austin Meadows made his Major League debut in May because Starling Marte's injury created an opportunity in center field. So when Jordy Mercer went on the disabled list on Thursday, it was fair to expect that Kevin Newman was called up to replace Mercer on an everyday basis.
But Adeiny Hechavarria has emerged as the starting shortstop in Mercer's absence, starting his fifth straight game on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park. The Pirates acquired the slick-fielding Hechavarria from the Rays on Aug. 6 for a reason, after all.
"I really don't think we're paying this guy enough credit," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Hechavarria. "I think there's too many people I've run into since we got him that are underselling this guy's talent level. He's a Major League shortstop. He's very gifted. He's shown the ability to play an offensive game."
Hechavarria entered Sunday with six hits in 18 at-bats for the Pirates and an .837 OPS against left-handers this season. The 29-year-old said he has found success lately by focusing on hitting the ball back up the middle after trying to do too much on each swing earlier this season. Hechavarria had been an everyday player for the Rays, but they designated him for assignment to make room for prospect Willy Adames.
"I just want to really share my gratitude toward the team for believing in me and bringing me over," Hechavarria said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "For them to bring me over, it's because they trust and they believe I have something to offer this team, that I'm able to back up this team in situations like this or if there's anything further in line for me."
But Hechavarria, like Mercer, will be a free agent at the end of the season. The Pirates could attempt to bring one of them back next year, but if they don't, Newman will be the frontrunner to take over the shortstop job.
General manager Neal Huntington said he hopes this callup will give Newman a "quick snapshot" of life in the Majors. Whatever playing time Newman does receive will also benefit the Pirates as they plan for the future, because it's generally more difficult to evaluate players after rosters expand in September.
"We're six games out of a Wild Card spot, fighting for our playoff lives," Huntington said. "We've worked with Clint to give him complete confidence and support to put out the lineup that we feel can give us the best chance to win a game on a nightly basis.
"This is a good stretch for [Newman] to come up and see some playoff-caliber baseball and gain some valuable experience -- an at-bat at a time, an inning at a time and a start at a time. But we also want to respect what Hechavarria has done defensively and the impact he can make on a club defensively and contribute with the bat. That's that delicate balance we're working through right now.