Anti-climatic might be the best word to describe the timing of the MLB debut of Ryan Merritt with the Cleveland Indians. Merritt had been called up to the 25-man roster a week earlier, but had to watch each game from the bullpen as he awaited his first opportunity to take a MLB mound. Finally, on Memorial Day, Merritt would receive his chance, but only after Josh Tomlin had been treated as a batting practice pitcher in giving up an insurmountable lead and manager Terry Francona had been tossed from the game. Perhaps, the timing was fitting for Merritt who has often been overlooked in the Indians stocked pitching pantry, yet continues to impress at every stop. On Monday, he added The Show to that list of stops as he pitched 4 1/3 innings of near flawless relief before the Indians optioned him back to the Triple-A Columbus Clippers on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-nothing, 180 pound, left-handed pitcher from McKinney, Texas is not an imposing presence on the mound. Merritt has not earned his MLB opportunity through a genetic lottery ticket that has gifted him a blazing fastball nor a wicked strikeout pitch that will make onlookers gawk. The Indians 16th round selection from the 2011 MLB Amatuer Draft from McLennan Community College was not the most sought after prospect nor has he flown through the MiLB levels.
However, what Merritt has done is persevere and utilize the weapons he does possess to improve through each level. The 24 year old has been able to make steady progress to be able to use his pitching arsenal to create weak contact, while possessing excellent command. As such, he entered the 2016 season as IBI's Tony Lastoria's 20th ranked prospect in the Indians farm system even before he further impressed with a 2.94 ERA over eight starts for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers this season. Here is a snippet of what Lastoria says about Merritt:
He is a command and control specialist who shows plus-plus command and control of his fastball and plus command of his secondary offerings. He mixes all of them well to keep hitters guessing and off balance with the way he locates so well and is able to manipulate his pitches so efficiently up, in, out and down to all four quadrants of the zone.
Down 9-0 in the fifth inning, Merritt received the call he had been awaiting. It was his turn to take the mound. Immediately, he played directly into the scouting reports as if he wanted to introduce himself to Indians fans. Yes, Ryan Merritt is a pitch-to-contact type of guy. After an Elvis Andrus single, he induced two straight ground ball outs. The first, by Ryan Rua, would be turned into a 5-4-3 double play.
In fact, after the initial single, Merritt recorded 13 outs without giving up a hit before exiting. Even when Juan Uribe would allow Andrus to reach base safely on an error, Merritt once again erased his presence on the basepaths with yet another double play. This time, Merritt himself assisted in the 1-6-3 transition.
And, just as Andrus reached base and was doubled up each time, Merritt also had a bit of a recurring theme with Jurickson Profar. However, the theme was much more satisfying for Indians fans as Profar struck out in both at bats for Merritt's only strikeouts in his appearance.
Merritt demonstrated the attributes expected in his initial outing. His fastball sat just under 90 miles per hour though he did touch 91 on a couple of occasions. The southpaw mixed a near split of his main offerings between his fastball (16 pitches), cuttter (13 pitches), and changeup (nine pitches), while throwing two curveballs for strikes too.
The lefty wasn't fooling the Rangers hitters as he only induced two whiffs in his 40 pitches, but he did throw 32 for strikes. So, batters must know to be aggressive when he takes the mound as Merritt will go after them quickly. And, due to his pitch-to-contact nature, he was able to go over four innings averaging less than 10 pitches per frame.
Further proof of a hitter's need to be aggressive is the first-pitch placement. After Merritt's first pitch traverses the meatier part of the plate, he quickly moved to the fringes of the strike zone for the rest of each at bat.
Cleveland Indians Ryan Merritt versus the Texas Rangers on May 30, 2016 courtesy of PITCH f/x via brooksbaseball.net
Overall, Merritt might not be the greatest of all prospects in Major League Baseball. He might have been in line for some tough outings as MLB hitters adjusted to his repetoire and took advantage of his aggressiveness, which is the reason the MiLB starter was in the MLB bullpen. And, the reason he was sent back down to the Clippers. But, regardless of what happens from here, Merritt will always have a fantastic MLB debut appearance on his resume.