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Merritt set to start regular season on DL

Tribe announces Opening Day plans; Brantley makes second straight start
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Ryan Merritt pitched through a knee issue this spring in an effort to compete for an Opening Day spot with the Indians. The problem proved persistent, and now the left-hander is facing a stint on the disabled list to start the season.

Indians manager Terry Francona noted that Merritt's left knee discomfort originated over the offseason, adding that the lefty has since dealt with a "tired arm" period here at the tail end of Spring Training. During Merritt's most recent outing on March 17 against the Cubs, the lefty's fastball velocity was down to around 82 mph; he averaged 87 mph in MLB last season.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Ryan Merritt pitched through a knee issue this spring in an effort to compete for an Opening Day spot with the Indians. The problem proved persistent, and now the left-hander is facing a stint on the disabled list to start the season.

Indians manager Terry Francona noted that Merritt's left knee discomfort originated over the offseason, adding that the lefty has since dealt with a "tired arm" period here at the tail end of Spring Training. During Merritt's most recent outing on March 17 against the Cubs, the lefty's fastball velocity was down to around 82 mph; he averaged 87 mph in MLB last season.

Francona said he received updates on Merritt's knee injury over the winter, but the manager didn't make it public until Friday.

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"He comes to camp. He's trying to make a club, so he didn't say much about it," Francona said. "His velocity has been down. We grabbed him a couple days ago and said, 'Level with us. We know you're competing.' And he said, he admitted that he's way behind."

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As a result, Merritt will open the season on the 10-day disabled list for the Indians. That allows Cleveland to avoid losing the pitcher at the end of Spring Training, given that Merritt is out of Minor League options. There was no room for Merritt in the rotation, and he was a long-shot to win a spot out of the bullpen, even if healthy.

Merritt, who has turned in a 1.71 ERA in 31 2/3 innings in the Majors over the past two seasons combined, serves as an important layer of depth behind Cleveland's starting staff.

"We're going to get that knee good and strong and get that arm good and strong," Francona said. "And then, when he's ready to be himself, then we have to make a decision -- where does he fit? But, I think in fairness to him, it's the best way [to go about it]. And I think he completely agreed."

Video: CLE@CHC: Merritt gets Bryant to go down swinging

Homecoming celebration
The Indians announced on Friday that Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard -- who hails from Rocky River, Ohio -- is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the team's home opener on April 6. Gerard became the youngest snowboarder to win a gold medal in the slopestyle at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games.

The opener, which will mark the 26th consecutive home-opening sellout for the Tribe, will also feature The Ohio State University Athletic Band performing the national anthem, as well as "Hang on Sloopy" during the game against the Royals. The Indians will also honor all branches of the United States military, with members of the Marines, Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force presenting the colors.

The pregame ceremony will also celebrate the Indians' 2017 American League Central championship and AL-record 22-game winning streak, along with honoring Corey Kluber's AL Cy Young Award win and the Silver Slugger Awards won by Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.

Injury updates
Michael Brantley was in the lineup for his second Cactus League game of the spring on Friday and is scheduled to serve as the designated hitter in a Minor League game on Saturday, per Francona. Brantley is returning from right ankle surgery in October and is making a push for the Opening Day roster.

Video: KC@CLE: Brantley homers in first Cactus League at-bat

• Outfielder Brandon Guyer (left wrist surgery in October) is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut on Saturday against the Rangers. Francona said the priority for Guyer is getting enough repetitions and at-bats over the next several days in order to gauge his readiness for the regular season.

• Right-hander Danny Salazar (right shoulder inflammation) threw off the mound in a bullpen session during Thursday's workout.

"He's good," Francona said. "He's bouncing around, which is good to see. He's in preparation where we're going to leave him back here. The weather is warm and he can get his work done here."

Worth noting
• The Indians technically released veteran Mike Napoli on Thursday, but they still plan on re-signing him to a Minor League contract, if a big league job does not present itself for the first baseman. Napoli remains in camp with Cleveland and will spend the weekend discussing his options with the club. Francona would love to keep Napoli in the organization (at Triple-A Columbus) if he does not find another MLB opportunity.

"We care about him so much," Francona said. "I just want him to be comfortable with whatever he does. We've had this conversation over and over. He's earned the right to enjoy whatever he does. I've just tried to make sure that we pounded that home, because that's how I feel."

Video: CLE@CHC: Napoli skies a two-run homer to left-center

• For Friday night's game against the D-backs, Brantley was in the lineup as the cleanup hitter. Francona is weighing how to handle his lineup, which is lefty dominant. Putting Brantley fourth moved Edwin Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso to fifth and sixth, respectively, but it helps create a little more balance throughout the order.

"Brant can hit anywhere, and he's willing to," Francona said. "And Edwin doesn't mind if he hits fourth -- he just wants to hit. So I'd like to not let a team that has one really good lefty just face three or four in a row. That doesn't seem to be doing our guys any favors."

• The last bullpen job is down to right-handers Matt Belisle and Carlos Torres, who are both non-roster invitees. News about that spot is expected to come on Saturday.

Up next
Kluber, who Francona confirmed will start on Opening Day on Thursday against the Mariners, is scheduled to make his final Cactus League start at 3:05 p.m. ET on Saturday against the Rangers in Surprise, Ariz. Through four outings this spring, Kluber has a 1.98 ERA with 19 strikeouts against three walks in 13 2/3 innings. The game can be heard live on Gameday Audio.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley, Brandon Guyer, Ryan Merritt, Mike Napoli, Danny Salazar