Merritt and Three Relievers Combine to Shut Out Kansas City; Indians 4, Royals 0

With Danny Salazar on the shelf, the Cleveland Indians called upon left-hander Ryan Merritt to make a big spot start in their rotation in an important matchup against the Kansas City Royals.

The circumstances were not too much for Merritt, who was certainly not shaking in his boots on Friday, as he gave the Indians a career-high six and two-thirds scoreless innings on the mound as Cleveland defeated Kansas City behind a 4-0 shutout.

Merritt had big shoes to fill but did the job admirably in front of a packed house at Progressive Field, holding a veteran Royals lineup to seven scattered hits. Three other relievers followed him to the mound and completed the eight-hit shutout as the Indians (71-56) kept a five and a half game lead in the AL Central over the Minnesota Twins while pushing the Royals (64-63) another game back in the standings, where they now trail the Tribe by seven games.

The second-year left-hander had a tough task on the night in the Royals, who called upon their top starter this season, southpaw Jason Vargas. Merritt’s teammates were able to tack on a pair twice against Vargas, dealing him his eighth loss of the season and his second straight to the Tribe.

Gomes - Jason Miller/Getty Images
Gomes – Jason Miller/Getty Images

The double play ball would be an early friend to the Indians left-hander. Whit Merrifield reached on a throwing error to start the game and after stealing second, was thrown out at third on a grounder by Lorenzo Cain. A double play ball from Melky Cabrera ended the inning.

Merritt would work out of trouble again in the second as Jorge Bonifacio singled with two outs and moved to third on a double by Alcides Escobar, with both coming on bloop hits to right, but a pop out to second by Cheslor Cuthbert left the pair stranded.

Merritt stranded another runner at third in the third after Alex Gordon doubled to lead off the inning. He would move to third on a ground out by Cain for the second out, but a grounder to short by Cabrera ended the frame.

The Indians got on the board in the bottom of the inning. Yan Gomes singled to right leading of before a deep double to left by Giovanny Urshela that went off of the glove of a leaping Gordon at the wall. Gomes raced around the bases and scored just before the tag with a head first slide to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. Francisco Lindor followed with a grounder to third, forcing Urshela to stay at the bag on the first out, but Austin Jackson singled through the right side to put the Tribe up by two.

Merritt got another double play ball to end the fourth, erasing a Salvador Perez one-out single to right.

The Indians doubled their lead with one big swing in the fifth. Urshela singled with one down before Lindor lifted a homer to the bleachers in left to make it a 4-0 game.

Cleveland threatened again in the sixth, this time off of reliever Kevin McCarthy. With one down in the inning, Carlos Santana singled to right-center and Brandon Guyer moved him to third with a single to left. The bottom of the order could not come through this time, however, as Gomes flied to left and Urshela grounded to short.

Lindor - Jason Miller/Getty Images
Lindor – Jason Miller/Getty Images

Merritt continued on into the seventh inning in his longest career start and got the first two outs before walking Cuthbert. Gordon dropped a single in to left-center, bringing manager Terry Francona out to the mound for Joe Smith, who got Merrifield to line to right to strand runners on the corners.

The Indians would leave two more in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh, but the lead was safe in the hands of the Cleveland bullpen. Three relievers would appear in the eighth, as Smith got the first two outs before Tyler Olson gave up a single to Eric Hosmer. Cody Allen came on and got a force at second before working an easy ninth, striking out two of the three to conclude the game.

Merritt (1-0, 1.76 ERA) earned his first win of the season with six and two-thirds innings of quality work on the mound. He allowed seven hits and a walk, but used two big double play balls to keep the Royals scoreless. He did not face a full count in the game until his second-to-last batter as he commanded the zone well against KC, throwing 21 of 27 first pitches on the night for strikes.

Vargas (14-8, 3.72) lasted five innings, needing the same number of pitches as Merritt despite retiring five fewer batters. He was charged with four runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts on the night.

The eight, nine, and one hitters combined to do the big work for the Tribe at the plate. Gomes had two hits and scored the first run. Urshela drove in a run and scored twice in a two-hit performance. Lindor also had two hits, including his 23rd homer of the season, while driving in two.

Gordon pushed his season batting average back over the .200 mark to .204 with a 3-for-3 day at the plate in a rare offensive outburst this season. The rest of his teammates could not do anything with him on the base paths, as the Royals combined to go 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

Jason Hammel (6-9, 4.73) will answer the call for the Royals on Saturday night in a 7:15 PM ET FS1 start time. He has defeated the Indians three times this season. Mike Clevinger (6-5, 3.97) will counter for Cleveland. He allowed four runs in four and one-third innings his last time out against Boston and will look to get back on the winning track.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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