Spring Training Notes 2/22: Ryan Merritt slated for Saturday

Ryan Merritt has experienced a whirlwind of emotions over the last 12 months, a period of time in which he made his MLB debut, got married and led the Cleveland Indians to the World Series courtesy of his heroic effort in Game 5 of the ALCS. Fast-forward to spring training and the 25-year-old now finds himself starting the Tribe's Cactus League opener on Saturday.

When injuries arise, opportunities present themselves.

For Ryan Merritt and the Cleveland Indians, the dream for a crack at the major league level became a reality last May. Aside from his respectable regular season stat line (11 IP, 6 H, 2 R/ER, 0 BB, 6 K), Merritt blossomed on the largest of stages by tossing 4.1 shutouts frames to anchor a depleted pitching staff in Game 5 of the ALCS against a dangerous Toronto Blue Jays lineup. As if his life could not have gotten more hectic, Merritt’s off-season training took a hiatus when he married his wife Sarah this past January.

Two weeks into big league camp and Merritt is back on the radar after earning the start in Game 1 of the Cactus League against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday at 3 PM ET from Goodyear Park in Goodyear, AZ.

Manager Terry Francona and staff announced the remaining probable starters for the club’s first five contests and detailed the statuses of Carlos Santana and Francisco Mejia.

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- With Corey Kluber applying a cautious approach to his spring training workload, Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway released the following pitching rotation for Feb. 25-Mar. 1: Merritt (Saturday), Danny Salazar (Sunday), Carlos Carrasco (Monday), Mike Clevinger (Tuesday) and Trevor Bauer (Wednesday). In addition, Andrew Miller and Clevinger will relieve Merritt to begin the 36-game spring schedule.

“Those 10 innings of experience really go a long way,” said Francona in regards to Merritt’s 2016 performance. “When you see guys come up and get a little bit of experience the year before, generally they show up the next spring and they look stronger.”

- Ranked as the number two catching prospect in all of baseball and coming off a historical campaign in which he registered a 50-game hitting streak, Mejia has drawn praise from Francona in the early stages of camp.

“He’s a switch-hitter who is pretty good from both sides,” Francona said. “He’s an extremely advanced hitter.”

The 21-year-old’s remarkable accomplishment was the longest MiLB hitting streak since 1963 and lasted four months between Single-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg in 2016.

- Despite logging 12.2 frames of action in left field in Games 3 and 5 of the World Series, Santana will not be a part of the outfield rotation come opening day. Prior to playing out of position, the Dominican Republic native had only notched four innings at the defensive spot in 2012.

“I wasn’t planning on doing it in the World Series,” said Francona when he positioned Santana in the left field corner of the Wrigley Field grass. “It’s nice to know that he’s very willing to do that.”

Santana’s unending joy for the game has brought a warming presence to the Tribe’s clubhouse over the last seven years.

“He just seems like he’s in a good place,” Francona said. “It’s fun to be around him. He likes what he’s doing.”

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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