New & improved Mercado propels walk-off

September 6th, 2020

CLEVELAND -- Oscar Mercado was sent down to Lake County last month after he struggled to find a rhythm at the plate. When the Indians traded Greg Allen to the Padres with Mike Clevinger, Mercado got the call back up to try to find some playing time. On Saturday, he proved that the adjustments he made at the alternate training site paid off.

In the bottom of the ninth, Mercado led off the frame with a double off Josh Hader. In 13 appearances this year, the Brewers’ reliever had yet to give up a hit until Mercado’s line drive to left field. Despite having a five-man infield, Cesar Hernandez squeezed a single through the left side to bring home Mercado in the Tribe’s first walk-off of the year with a 4-3 victory over the Brewers at Progressive Field.

“Mercado, he’s a good fastball hitter, but he needed to get a pitch he could handle,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “And then Hernandez, I’ve said it before, he’s gonna put you in a good situation. You feel good about it when he’s at the plate because he’s going to make contact the majority of the time. He’s a good situational player.”

When Hader came into the game, Mercado remembered that he had read on social media that the lefty had yet to give up a hit this year and realized when he glanced up at the scoreboard that streak was still intact. Opposing hitters were 0-for-36 with 18 strikeouts against him, and for a hitter who had been optioned to Lake County after going 5-for-45 (.111) to start the season, it may have seemed like Hader had the upper hand.

But after Mercado’s third plate appearance of the evening, Alomar noticed something different in his approach that was setting him up better for success.

“I saw Mercado using his hands more instead of using his body,” Alomar said. “He took his body away from the swing and I said, ‘Man, Mercado looks good,’ because right now he looks like he’s trying to make contact. He’s not trying to do too much.”

That slight adjustment was one of many things Mercado worked on over the past few weeks at the Tribe’s alternate training site that have already started to bring better results. And those outcomes create, most importantly, more confidence.

“As the failures continue, you start to press and press and press and you forget about the process and the things that really allowed you to succeed last year,” Mercado said. “I took a step back and was able to watch video and see a lot of things that I could definitely work on. ... They were happy with where I was at and the things I worked on, so that tells me that, obviously, I was working on the right things.”

The slow offensive start was hard for Mercado to overcome and maybe the reality of getting optioned to Lake County ended up being the toughest thing to swallow. But the Tribe’s center fielder was quick to admit that the move was something that could benefit him in the long run.

“I lost some confidence, and it affected me a lot game after game,” Mercado said. “No one ever wants to get sent down, but I can truthfully say it was something that I think I definitely made the most out of. I used it to regain my confidence from a mental standpoint and work on some things mechanically.”

A potential resurgence couldn’t be coming at a better time for Mercado, as the Tribe’s previous regular center fielder, Delino DeShields, will be sidelined for a few days with a right shoulder contusion. DeShields had been hitting .271 with a .627 OPS and edged Mercado out of his starting role. But with Mercado expected to get all the playing time over the next few weeks, the lessons he learned at Lake County may help him take back the position he claimed in 2019.

“You never want to accept the fact that you failed,” Mercado said. “But at the end of the day, you have to look at the big picture. … Going down there, getting a good amount of at-bats and not feeling the pressure allowed me to go work on those things, and if I fail, I fail. I think it really freed up a lot within myself and like I said before, you can either get disappointed and cry about it or you can make the most out of it. I decided to take it within myself to go out there and make the most out of it.”