Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer renew old acquaintances as Tigers pound Pirates

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Josh Harrison had an RBI double, stole third base and was hit by a pitch in Detroit's 6-3 win over Pittsburgh Saturday.

Lakeland, Fla. — Before the game here Saturday, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire walked over to the Pirates' skipper Clint Hurdle and the two shared a quick laugh.

"I went over to thank him personally for giving us his middle infield," Gardenhire said. "He said, 'You're going to love them. You won't have to worry about those guys.' And I said, 'I get that.'"

Second baseman Josh Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer got to say hello to a lot of old friends, then they got to torment them during the Tigers' 6-3 win.

"It's always fun playing baseball, no matter who's on the other side," Harrison said. "It was great to see old friends, but I didn't approach it any differently. I just went out and played my game."

BOX SCORE: Tigers 6, Pirates 3

Harrison and Mercer, until they became Tigers this offseason, spent nearly their entire professional career with the Pirates. Harrison got the Tigers offense going right from the start, getting hit by a pitch from his former teammate and roommate Chris Archer in the first inning.

"I said something to him as I went down the line," Harrison said with a smile. "He always hits me, though. He was my Low-A roommate and he hit me when he was with the Rays in Pittsburgh — actually got a fine for it, too, even though it wasn't intentional."

Harrison eventually scored on a two-out single by Christin Stewart.

"He's really a funny guy," Gardenhire said of Harrison. "He came into the dugout in the first inning saying, 'I'm already in their head.' That's the kind of guy you love. He loves to play baseball and he's a very exciting player.

"It's a really big pick-up for us...Him and Mercer are very special together and Harrison is hilarious. He's got all the lines and he comes to play every day. Good times."

More: Change-up, curveball, everything but the kitchen sink for Tigers Shane Greene

Harrison then had one of four doubles the Tigers hit off Archer in a three-run second inning. For good measure, Harrison stole third off his old buddy and scored on a sacrifice fly by Miguel Cabrera.

"That's just being in (scoring) position," Harrison said. "You got Miggy up with less than two outs. He's a situational hitter, man, There is a reason he is who he is."

As much as any other player, Harrison has been the embodiment of what Gardenhire has been preaching this spring — be smart on the bases, but be aggressive. 

"It's all a mentality," Harrison said. "I don't think it's a veteran or rookie thing. That's just an area of the game that sometimes gets overlooked — getting on base and putting pressure on the pitcher. 

"A lot of times it's not about just stealing bags. It's going first to third, it's seeing balls in the dirt and getting a good read. A lot of times just giving the appearance that you're going to run is enough to make a team panic."

Harrison is hitting .391 this spring, with a .517 on-base percentage. He's scored seven runs in 10 games, usually getting just three at-bats a game. This from a guy who wasn't signed until Feb. 23.

"I'm not surprised at all," Harrison said when asked about his quick start. "A lot of this game is being healthy and I'm healthy and good things are happening. I think that comes with the territory.

"I'm just fortunate enough to be out there feeling good and working toward the start of the season."

A lot more Moore

After the game, Harrison, Mercer and Archer and Tigers starter Matt Moore talked for a good while outside the Tigers clubhouse. Archer and Moore, of course, were teammates in Tampa.

"We were first teammates back in 2011 in Double-A," said Moore, who threw 71 pitches in five innings of work Saturday. "I learned a lot from Chris."

And, vice versa, probably?

"I mean, just from being around each other was probably good for both of us," he said. 

It was Moore's fifth start of the spring, and he pitched four no-hit innings before faltering in the fifth.

"I like where my focus was for three-quarters of the game," he said. "I thought the fifth inning I didn't feel quite as focused as I did earlier."

Still, from pitch one to pitch 71, his fastball was steady at 93-94 mph. His curveball and change-up were as effective as they've been all spring. He was dinged for three singles and a walk in the fifth, which led to three runs.

"Who knows?" he said when asked if fatigue was an issue. "It was my first time being out there in the fifth inning this spring, but I don't want to beat up on that too much. There was a lot more good than bad today."

Gardy ailing

Gardenhire was back in the dugout after missing the game in Port Charlotte on Friday, but he's still in a lot of discomfort. He's dealing with a pinched nerve in his neck.

"I don't have a lot of range of motion," he said. "But come Wednesday morning I will — if I'm alive."

Gardenhire is going to get an injection, presumably cortisone, in his neck Wednesday morning. 

"They are going to stick me with a needle about as long as your leg," he said. "But I've got something in my neck and I've got to figure out what it is."

Around the horn

Stewart had another productive day. He knocked in three runs with an RBI single off Archer, then a two-run blast into the party deck in right field off Michael Feliz. It was his third home run. "He's got some thump," Harrison said. "He's hit some balls this spring that are still going."

... The Tigers hit four doubles in the second inning — Harrison, Mikie Mahtook, Grayson Greiner and Jeimer Candelario. They lead the Grapefruit League with 51 doubles.

... Right-hander Drew VerHagen, who was shut down with nerve inflammation in his shoulder, is expected to throw his second bullpen in three days on Sunday. "Everything is great," Gardenhire said. "We're going to start slowly getting him back out on the mound."

... Gardenhire also said he has not ruled out starting pitcher Michael Fulmer being able to start the season on the active roster. "I'm just letting it play out," he said. "Just let the trainers and him work it out. He'll decide that. We just want him to get back to where he's comfortable.

"He knows it's not been right so far, but he's working on it. We will take our time, not rush it and see where he goes."

Twitter: @cmccosky