Minor League Baseball

Consistency has been best weapon of Carolina Mudcats’ lefty Ryan Merritt

cbest@newsobserver.comJune 30, 2014 

  • At Five County Stadium

    The Mudcats wrap up their series against Lynchburg with games on July 2-3, then welcome the Salem Red Sox for a weekend series. There will be three nights of fireworks at Five County Stadium from July 3-5. After each of those games, fans will be treated to a fireworks display.

    There’s reason to come out to the park on Sunday as well since it’s kids run the bases day.

    Carolina vs. Lynchburg: Wednesday, July 2, and Thursday, July 3, 7 p.m. starts

    Carolina vs. Salem: Friday, July 4, 7 p.m.; Saturday, July 5, 6 p.m.; Sunday, July 6, 2 p.m.

— If Ryan Merritt was into numbers, the kind of numbers the left-handed pitcher from Texas has been putting up for the Carolina Mudcats this summer, he would have a hard time not being impressed.

Alas, he’s not, so he has no interest in the largely consistent pitching stat lines he’s compiled through the first half of the baseball season.

“I don’t even ever look at my stats,” Merritt said. “I don’t go to websites, check that stuff. I just go out there and try to let as few runs as possible score.”

He’s done better than well on that account.

Merritt, who is slated to get the start Wednesday, July 2, as Carolina continues its annual Fourth of July week home stand at Five County Stadium, carries the lowest earned-run average for a Mudcats starting pitcher since 2009 at 1.58.

That’s a better number than the ERA posted by 2013 Mudcats’ standout Cody Anderson, who was named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Year.

Merritt’s approach is simple. He throws just three pitches (fastball, change-up and curveball), throws a lot of strikes and works quickly.

“He has a really good feel of tempo of a game,” said Carolina pitching coach Steve Karsay, a former Major League starter. “Really keeps his fielders into the game because they’re up on their heels. He’s not a guy who’s going to diddle around and go to full counts, 2-2. That’s one of the intangibles that make him a great pitcher.”

Merritt takes the real estate agent’s approach to pitching. It’s all about location, location, location – his ability to hit spot after spot whenever he wants.

That’s how a pitcher compiles what Karsay thinks is the 22-year-old’s most impressive statistical result: his 0.909 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched).

Says Karsay: “Anytime you can be near one (1.00), you’re doing a tremendous job of keeping runners off base.”

Merritt lost one start as the Mudcats’ three innings of scoreless work against Potomac was erased on June 11 when the game was called. He also pitched a scoreless, hitless inning in the California/Carolina League All-Star Game last month.

When he was drafted (11th round) by the Cleveland Indians a year out of McLennan (Waco, Texas) Community College, Merritt was looking at his transfer offers from four-year colleges. He had drawn interest from the likes of Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M.

Quickly he switched his focus to adjusting to the professional approach to baseball.

“It definitely gets harder and harder as the levels go,” he said. “Throughout the years I’ve definitely learned a lot more. I’ve really kept the same mentality from high school to college to pro ball. Keep attacking guys and stay confident in yourself.”

There was an adjustment period. He posted a personal high 4.09 ERA in 2012 in the New York-Penn League, then showed more promise last season, going 6-9 with a 3.52 ERA mainly at Lake County (Ohio) in Low-A ball. He made two starts for Carolina last season.

Over the winter, Merritt added more weights to his workout sessions. That’s helped physically on the field and mentally, reinforcing the 6-foot, 165-pound lefty’s determination to always attack on the mound and pitch with confidence.

“He’s really done a lot of work in the offseason, gotten a lot stronger,” Karsay said. “He’s always been durable. He’s just been more consistent with all three of his pitches. His command has been off the charts through the first three months of the season.”

Merritt has issued only 17 walks in 91 1/3 innings this season and works on average into the seventh inning every time he toes the pitching rubber.

“I’ve just been trying to go out every outing, being confident,” he said. “Every time I throw a pitch, throw it with conviction.”

Like most other minor league standouts, Merritt appears to have the talent to have a future at the Major League level. And if he keeps putting up quality start after quality start, he’ll continue to advance through the Indians’ system.

“Everybody here in professional baseball has the talent to be a Major League baseball player,” Merritt said. “It’s just being mentally strong enough to overcome the failure. You’re failing more than you’re succeeding.

“If you can overcome the failing through the years, you make it through to the Major Leagues.”

Best: 919-524-8895; Twitter: @dclaybest

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