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Merritt's badge: Lefty rewarded for pitching in

Spot starter earns a stay in Cleveland by complementing an already dominant rotation
MLB.com @MLBastian

NEW YORK -- While Ryan Merritt was packing his belongings, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway walked over and tapped the young pitcher on the back. Merritt is used to leaving for Triple-A Columbus after his stops with the Tribe, but Callaway wanted to make sure the lefty knew that this time was different.

"This is the one time we don't have to send him back," Indians manager Terry Francona said with a smile after a 9-4 win over the Yankees in Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader. "Good for him."

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NEW YORK -- While Ryan Merritt was packing his belongings, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway walked over and tapped the young pitcher on the back. Merritt is used to leaving for Triple-A Columbus after his stops with the Tribe, but Callaway wanted to make sure the lefty knew that this time was different.

"This is the one time we don't have to send him back," Indians manager Terry Francona said with a smile after a 9-4 win over the Yankees in Game 2 of Wednesday's doubleheader. "Good for him."

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Throughout the incredible run by the Indians' rotation through August, Merritt has pitched in as a spot starter without hindering the group's momentum. With Major League rosters expanding Friday, the left-hander can stick around and be available out of the bullpen, or for a start here and there down the stretch as needed. Roster logistics aside, Merritt more than earned the right to stick around.

Cleveland's rotation accounted for 18 of the team's 19 wins in August while posting a 2.67 ERA as a unit, helping the American League Central-leading Indians continue to separate from the division pack. Ace Corey Kluber powered that production with another sample of starts that has him positioned to contend for the AL Cy Young Award. Even with Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin shelved with injuries, the rotation plowed forward, undeterred.

Within this past month's showing by the Tribe staff was the 1.15 ERA posted by Merritt in three outings. The left-hander with the fastball that hovers around 87 mph has baffled big league bats, pounding the strike zone without feeling an ounce of intimidation. Against the Yankees on Wednesday, Trevor Bauer logged six solid innings in a 2-1 win in Game 1, and Merritt followed with one run allowed over 5 1/3 frames in Game 2.

"Seeing the way all the other starters are pitching," Merritt said, "you feed off them."

Bauer has continued to be impressed with Merritt's poise as a spot starter in a postseason chase.

"It's a tough thing to do," Bauer said. "The travel, breaking up your routines. You go up, you go down. You pitch on seven days, you pitch on five days, you pitch on who knows what. You come up here, you don't have any information on the hitters, because you get here the day of or whatever. It's a big testament to him.

"He comes out, he executes his game plan. He goes out there, he throws strikes, he forces the other team to beat him, he executes quality pitches."

Merritt has fit right in with an Indians' rotation that has steadily climbed to the top of the AL charts.

Cleveland's starting staff currently ranks first in the AL in ERA (3.87), Fielding Independent Pitching (3.55), WAR (17.4 per Fangraphs), strikeout percentage (27.3), strikeout-minus-walk percentage (20.1), ERA- (86), strikeouts per nine innings (10.1), opponents' batting average (.242) and wins (61).

To provide a glimpse of how dominant the Indians' rotation has been in the second half, consider that the staff was last in the AL with a 4.86 ERA as recently as June 9.

The Indians are finally pitching to their expectations, and Merritt has played an important role.

"For Merritt to come up and do what he's done," Callaway said, "that's a testament to our Minor League development guys. They're doing a great job of getting guys to throw the ball over the plate and come up here without any anxiety and pitch in the Major Leagues."

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.

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