Merritt impresses in Major League debut

Indians lefty waits a week to pitch after being called up, fires 4 1/3 scoreless innings

Merritt impresses in Major League debut

CLEVELAND -- The bullpen phone had rung nearly two dozen times before Ryan Merritt's name was spoken. After a week of soaking up the big leagues, and patiently waiting his turn, that moment arrived for the Indians' rookie left-hander on Monday night.

Merrit's Major League debut may have come in a tough 9-2 loss to the Rangers, but the lefty's work against the team he grew up watching was a bright spot for Cleveland. It took a week for Merritt to see a big league mound for the first time, but the Indians' No. 27 prospect smiled when asked if it was worth the wait.

"Oh, yeah," Merritt said. "Pretty nervous, and a lot of anticipation, but it was worth it getting out there, getting my toes wet, getting a feel for the Major Leagues. It was fun."

What was not fun was watching the first four innings, in which the Rangers scored nine runs on 10 hits and did enough damage to send the previously unbeaten Josh Tomlin to his first loss of the season. Merritt saw Ian Desmond launch a two-run homer in the first and Nomar Mazara belt a three-run shot in the fourth. The lefty also watched Indians manager Terry Francona get ejected in the third.

Tribe bench coach Brad Mills, who was managing in place of Francona, made the call that summoned Merritt to the mound for the start of the fifth inning.

This was no easy task for the green pitcher.

"That offense was kind of feeling good about themselves probably going into that inning," Tomlin said. "They had put up nine runs at that point."

It took eight pitches for Merritt to record the first three outs of his career. After the 24-year-old lefty yielded a leadoff single to Elvis Andrus, he induced a double-play grounder off the bat of Ryan Rua. Merritt then set down the top of the Texas lineup in order in the sixth and did the same with the heart of the lineup in the seventh. In the eighth, he worked around an error by third baseman Juan Uribe for another shutout frame.

Merritt induces double play

Mills let Merritt face Jurickson Profar to open the ninth, and the lefty struck out the Rangers second baseman with an 87-mph fastball. That was the second strikeout of the night for Merritt, who walked off the mound to cheers after spinning 4 1/3 scoreless innings, during which he generated nine outs via ground balls.

"Good for him. He's been waiting patiently, keeping his eyes open," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He came in and threw the ball over the plate -- got a double play. He really did well. I'm sure he's taking a sigh of relief that he's pitched. He held his nerves in check and he threw strikes."

The Indians selected Merritt in the 16th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, and the left-hander earned the organization's Bob Feller Award (Minor League Pitcher of the Year) in '14. This season, Merritt fashioned a 2.94 ERA in 52 innings (eight starts) for Triple-A Columbus before getting the call to The Show on May 23.

One benefit of the week-long wait was that Merritt made his debut against the Rangers. The lefty is a native of McKinney, Texas, which is roughly an hour away from Arlington.

"I've been watching them my whole life," he said. "It's neat to be able to pitch against them. But, I still want the Indians to win."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.