After four and one-third innings of scoreless, one-hit relief in his Major League debut on Monday, the Cleveland Indians rewarded rookie Ryan Merritt by optioning the left-hander to Triple-A Columbus on Tuesday.
In reality, the move had nothing to do with Merritt’s performance and everything to do with keeping the Indians bullpen fresh after the club used the southpaw heavily to prevent excessive wear on their relief corps after getting just three and one-third innings in Josh Tomlin’s start in the series opener against the Texas Rangers.
In a corresponding move, the Indians recalled right-hander Shawn Armstrong from Columbus to fill Merritt’s spot in the ‘pen.
Merritt had to wait a week before making his debut while operating as the sole left-handed option in manager Terry Francona’s bullpen. He was called up last Monday for the Indians’ doubleheader in Chicago to essentially replace Kyle Crockett, who was optioned out by the Tribe on Sunday, May 22nd, after a particularly rough stretch on the mound.
Merritt is expected to rejoin the Clippers starting rotation after his impressive MLB debut. The Tribe bullpen is once again without a left-handed option.
“He’s been waiting patiently and keeping his eyes open,” shared Francona after Monday’s loss. “He came in and threw the ball over the plate, got a double play, and really, really did well. I’m sure he’s probably taking a sign of relief that he’s pitched, and he held his nerves in check, and he threw strikes.”
Merritt pounded the strike zone early and often, giving up just a single to the first batter he faced, long-time Indians killer Elvis Andrus. He threw 32 of his 40 pitches on the night for strikes, including first pitch strikes to ten of the 13 batters he faced in just his sixth professional relief appearance. He struck out two and did not issue a walk.
Armstrong, 25, made his MLB debut last August, one week short of four years after signing with the Indians following their selection of the reliever in the 18th round of the 2011 draft. He pitched sparingly over the final two months of the season, appearing in eight games and wrapping up five. He threw eight innings, allowing two runs on five hits (2.25 ERA and 0.88 WHIP) with a pair of walks and eleven strikeouts.
He was 0-1 with a 2.50 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, and three saves for the Clippers this season. In 18 innings of 16 games pitched, he had allowed six runs (five earned) on 12 hits with an uncharacteristically high 17 walks, but 30 strikeouts, in those appearances. His 15 strikeouts per nine innings rate has consistently been among the top marks in the Indians farm system this season.
This year, opposing hitters are batting .188 against Armstrong. While he is right-handed, he may see some opportunities for Cleveland against left-handed hitters. Lefties have batted just.094 against him with 17 strikeouts in 45 plate appearances. While they have just three hits off of him this season, they have drawn eleven of his 17 walks.
With Joba Chamberlain working his way back from the disabled list, Armstrong joins Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, Zach McAllister, Jeff Manship, Tommy Hunter, Dan Otero, and Austin Adams in the Indians bullpen.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer