CLEVELAND – Twenty-two games in 20 days can take a toll on a pitching staff.
The Indians are prepared for this mid-season stretch chock full of baseball.
Manager Terry Francona slated Ryan Merritt and Mike Clevinger as his probable starters for Saturday, June 17 in a day-night doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. With Danny Salazar (right shoulder soreness) on the disabled list and a 26-man roster available for twin bills, the window for opportunity creaked its way open for the front end of the Columbus Clippers' rotation.
"We have it set up where Clev and Merritt would start that [set of] doubleheader games,” said Francona. “I think because of days off and those guys pitching on the same day, Merritt went and pitched in Lake County (on Monday), then went back. They’re all set to do that.”
Merritt will be pitching in the big leagues for the first time since his 4.1 scoreless innings in Game 5 of the ALCS vs. Toronto. The 25-year-old southpaw fired 11 frames of two-run ball throughout the 2016 regular season, earning him consideration this spring as a potential fifth starter.
“You know you’re going to get strikes,” Francona said. “It’s kind of nice. You get to this time of year and you’re starting to play a lot of baseball. Getting a fresh face – his fresh face, too – I think it can help us, two, I think it can really help him. As we’ve seen in the past, you end up needing those guys.”
A former 16th round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, Merritt could carve out a permanent role if he can translate his Triple-A success to the game’s highest level – 72.2 IP, 82 H, 32 R/ER, 22 BB, 56 K, 3.96 ERA.
“I think he started out a little slow, but he’s been better lately,” said Francona. “The other day, I know it was in A-ball, but he threw 70 pitches in seven innings.”
Clevinger figured to join the club at some point regardless of the jam-packed schedule in June. His 4.09 ERA, .198 opposing batting average and 1.21 WHIP helped justify the decision to keep him on the starting staff.
“Limiting hard contact has been a plus for me,” Clevinger said. “I think each time I go out there, it’s been better aggression, better attacking.”
Similar to Merritt, the 26-year-old right-hander could cement a role for the foreseeable future if Salazar remains sidelined.
“[Salazar’s] with us until we leave on Thursday,” said Francona. “And then I believe we’re going to send him back to Tony (Arnold) in Akron, that group, when we go back on the road. The one thing we need to make sure is that he’s started his throwing program and if that’s the case, that’s what we’ll do.”
Cleveland's starting rotation enters play on Tuesday with a 24-26 record, 4.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 361 strikeouts in 337.1 innings pitched (60 starts).