CLEVELAND -- Indians manager Terry Francona said it was nearly impossible for a rookie to go over 100 plate appearances without hitting some sort of a wall. Although Oscar Mercado did his best to prove his skipper wrong, his bat went cold after 153 at-bats.
Mercado then went 1-for-25, but he snapped his slump on Monday with a multi-homer game and he has yet to look back. The 24-year-old kept the motor running on Friday night, going 5-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBIs to help lift the Indians to a 10-5 victory over the Royals at Progressive Field -- the team’s sixth straight win.
With the Twins’ 5-3 loss to the A’s on Friday, the Indians moved to three games behind the American League Central leaders.
“Feels good,” Mercado said of his night. “It feels even better to be playing the way we are. I kind of have this thing where, today is already over and you can enjoy it for tonight, and then be ready to play tomorrow.”
Outside of his six-game rut, Mercado has taken advantage of his opportunity at the big league level since his callup on May 14. At the end of June, the outfielder was hitting .314 with an .837 OPS, but his offensive skid caused his batting average to drop down to .275. That’s when he was given the day off on Sunday to clear his head.
“I think sometimes a mental breathing like that will help,” Mercado said. “I was pressing and it gets tough sometimes. But just being able to sit back and just kind of watch the game, and kind of slow things down a little bit, mentally, really helped me, I feel like.”
In his last five games, he’s climbed his way back up to .299, hitting .526 (10-for-19) with three homers, eight RBIs and six runs scored in that span. Mercado is also the 16th-youngest Indians player since 1908 with a five-hit game and the sixth-youngest to do so in their rookie season. His immediate impact on the big league club has produced eye-catching numbers enough that could warrant Mercado popping up in some American League Rookie of the Year Award discussions.
“That’s exciting to see that,” manager Terry Francona said. “Everybody’s going to go through a tough stretch, but you know a first-year player is. And to see him not wilt -- to see him come back with a vengeance, that’s pretty exciting.”
Mercado's five-hit performance was the first by an Indians hitter since Jose Ramirez on Sept. 3, 2017. And it was the first time a Cleveland rookie recorded at least five hits in a game since Jason Kipnis on Aug. 10, 2011. Mercado’s 59 hits through his first 51 career games are the most by an Indians player through that span since Duane Kuiper had 64 in 1974-75.
Mercado has been more than what the Indians could’ve asked for in his first season, helping improve the club’s biggest area of need. Heading into the season, the Tribe’s biggest question mark was its outfield. But Mercado, Tyler Naquin and Jordan Luplow -- against lefties -- have been a pleasant offensive surprise. On top of Mercado’s five-hit night, Naquin added a two-run homer in the third and tacked on his team-leading eighth assist, throwing Alex Gordon out at home plate in the top of the frame. Naquin has recorded seven multi-hit efforts in 11 games in July, hitting .447 with six doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs for the month.
“I think it’s just keeping my body right, keeping my body healthy in order to help the team whether it’s a pinch-hit, whether it’s playing every day, whatever it may be,” Naquin said. “But I think it’s just finding the right routine, making the right things the right priorities, and just sticking to it and not wavering from it.”
Naquin, whose locker is next to Mercado’s in the clubhouse, was one of the handful of teammates the rookie credited with assisting him in regaining his confidence throughout his slump. But the way Mercado has been able to stay so consistent after his first big league rut has impressed the 28-year-old right fielder.
“Yeah and that’s what’s so special,” Naquin said. “[Mercado] was 2-for-2 quick. I mean the game was moving quick; he’s 2-for-2. Just kind of looked at him and said, ‘This is where you look in. Keep going.’ Third one, stay in there. Four, you don’t need to say anything after that. He’s in his own world. Don’t talk to him, don’t touch him, let him ride his night out. For him to go 5-for-5, there’s no higher level of baseball. You go 5-for-5, it’s impressive.”