After Adapting to Brief Bullpen Role, Merritt to Get First MLB Start

Indians left-hander Ryan Merritt spent parts of six seasons in the Cleveland farm system, working almost exclusively as a starter. So of course, when he made his Major League debut back on May 30 against the Texas Rangers, he took center stage as a relief pitcher.

That was the expected life of a Triple-A starting pitcher in the Indians farm system this season with a stacked staff of options in Cleveland. Manager Terry Francona used every starting arm possible to shore up a struggling bullpen earlier in the season and now, with his starting rotation down its top three arms, the Tribe skipper is dipping back into the pool of young depth options to help out its ailing rotation.

The 24-year-old southpaw from McKinney, Texas, began his season in Triple-A Columbus, picking up where he left off the previous year. After a strong 10-7 record with a 3.51 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and two complete game shutouts in 22 starts for Double-A Akron to start the 2015 season, he got the promotion to Columbus, going 2-0 with a 4.20 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in five starts.

Merritt was 3-4 with a 2.94 ERA when he got his first call to the Majors on May 23, when the Indians were heading to Chicago for a doubleheader with the White Sox. He remained with the club to give the Tribe an extra arm in the bullpen after 18 innings of baseball on his first day in the Majors, hanging around for another week before he made his MLB debut with four and one-thirds innings of scoreless relief against the Texas Rangers. He threw 40 pitches to 13 batters, striking out a pair and giving up just one hit while keeping the ball on the ground. He was also the beneficiary of a pair of double play balls in the 9-2 loss.

He was optioned back to Triple-A Columbus after the outing, but certainly not due to the results he contributed on the mound.

While back with the Clippers, his numbers took a bit of a hit and he ultimately landed on the disabled list for a week and a half at the end of June, but was back in an Indians uniform on August 4 with his second call up of the season. He appeared that night, working the final inning in perfect fashion in a 9-2 win over the Minnesota Twins.

It was back to Columbus again for Merritt the following day, where he wrapped up the Triple-A schedule with a 4-1 mark down the stretch with a 2.68 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He was added back to the Indians roster on September 11 after the Clippers were eliminated from the International League semifinals.

Since his return, he has appeared just once, allowing a run on two hits in two-thirds of an inning in an 11-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox on September 12.

Merritt joined the Indians in 2011 when Cleveland selected him in the 16th round of the draft out of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. He made four appearances for the Indians in the Arizona League after signing, working each in relief.

He spent 2012 in the rotation with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers and spent nearly all of 2013 with Class-A Lake County, aside from two starts at High-A Carolina. He returned to the Mudcats in 2014, posting his best professional season to date, before his promotion to Akron for the 2015 season.

Prior to his relief work in his first three games with the Indians this season, he had made just one appearance out of the bullpen over the last five years.

He will get his first opportunity to start at the Major League level as the Indians take on the Detroit Tigers in the series finale on Thursday afternoon. As one of the top starting pitching arms in the farm system and the team’s closest lefty to the Majors, it will provide the Indians with a glimpse of one of their potential options for the future, in the event of unfortunate emergency situations like those faced this season.

Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images

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