In a move appearing necessary over the last couple of weeks, slumping outfielder Oscar Mercado was optioned by the Cleveland Indians to their alternate training site in Lake County on Monday.
The move creates a vacancy on the Indians’ 28-man roster that would presumably be filled prior to the team’s series in Pittsburgh beginning Tuesday night. Early speculation would lead most to believe that the spot was created for catcher Roberto Perez, who appeared close to be activated from the 10-day injured list while the team was in Detroit over the weekend.
Mercado headed into spring training believed to be one of the known solutions to the outfield puzzle. Despite a strong debut season in 2019 with the Indians and an eighth place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, he has fallen into a horrible sophomoric slump to begin his second season of work at the Major League level. Expanded rosters have left manager Terry Francona with a slew of outfield options, but Mercado has not been able to carve out consistent playing time while struggling mightily at the plate.
The return of center fielder Delino DeShields from the 10-day injured list two weeks ago only put more pressure on the 25-year-old, as the veteran DeShields has played well and provided the lineup with the kind of spark that it had hoped to get from Mercado. The current outfield logjam is down to DeShields, Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin, Domingo Santana, and Bradley Zimmer, with Franmil Reyes occupying the designated hitter role. Greg Allen and Daniel Johnson have already been optioned out during the season and Jake Bauers was subtracted from the group of candidates before the end of Summer Camp.
Mercado contributed quite a bit for the Indians a season ago as he emerged as a building block for the future. After coming over from the St. Louis Cardinals in a minor trade deadline deal in July of 2018, Mercado opened 2019 at Triple-A Columbus and later got the call to the Majors with the Indians’ outfield faltering and suffering a plague of injury bugs. He played all three outfield spots and appeared in 115 games for the Tribe, posting a .269/.318/.443 slash with 25 doubles, three triples, 15 homers, and 54 RBI with 15 stolen bases in 19 attempts.
His speed is a big part of his game, but that is negated substantially when unable to get on base consistently. That was the problem for Mercado, who had five singles and three walks in 48 total plate appearances this season (.111/.167/.111 slash) hitting near the bottom of the lineup after working out of the two-hole nearly all of last year. Two of those hits came in his first four games of the season and his other three hits and two of his three walks came in one “hot” series against the Cincinnati Reds, when he reached base safely five times in 15 plate appearances.
He last started in Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Tigers, but was limited to a late pinch-running appearance on Sunday, stealing his first base of the season. His opportunities of late have dwindled as the team worked with him behind the scenes in the batting cages in an attempt to tweak his stance and get him more balanced in the batter’s box.
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