Consistency is the name of Merritt's game
After going 6-9 in Lake County during 2013, few people, if any, saw a potential ace in Carolina Mudcats left-hander Ryan Merritt before the season began.
That perception has certainly changed now.
A 16th round draft pick in 2011, Merritt is having one of the best seasons in Mudcats franchise history, including before they were affiliated with the Indians.
Consistency has been the name of the game for Merritt, as he has gone 13-3 this season with a 2.49 ERA through 23 starts. The Texas native has pitched into the seventh inning in all but seven starts.
He became just the fourth Mudcats pitcher to have a 13-win season, and the first since 2000.
Those are numbers only an ace for the Advanced-A team with Major League potential could post.
Merritt said the change of roles has forced him to adjust his mindset, but he has just focused on pitching and competing at the highest level.
“I’ve just gone out and competed in my outings and had quality starts,” Merritt said. “Mostly just trying to give my team a chance to win.”
One reason Merritt has been so successful this season is his strikeout to walk ratio. In 148.1 innings, he has 117 strikeouts compared to just 24 walks. Being able to consistently hit his spots has been a big reason for that.
“Consistency has really come into play,” he said. “Being confident in my stuff and trusting all my pitches is really important. I just try to be as consistent as I can be.”
Merritt had a spectacular first half, posting a 6-2 record with a miniscule 1.66 ERA. That performance earned him the starting nod in the Carolina League All-Star game. He needed only seven pitches to retire the side in a perfect inning.
Being able to work with the same pitching coach the last two years with Steve Karsay has helped Merritt’s progression as a pitcher.
“He just does all the little things right,” Karsay said. “Last year wasn’t his best season, but he worked really hard in the offseason and has really become a great pitcher. He has a lot of intangibles you can’t teach a young pitcher.”
Merritt said all of his work with Karsay has allowed him to grow as a pitcher from the simple things that Karsay teaches.
“Learning hitters and being able to pitch inside are a couple of things Karsay works with me on,” Merritt said. “He makes sure to know to go inside and don’t be afraid to go inside with two strikes and when it’s a good time to elevate a fastball and get them off the plate if they are comfortable in the at bat. Karsay says to make them hit my pitches and not let them get comfortable.”
While some people might put a lot more pressure on themselves in those situations, Merritt has tried to keep that to a minimum.
“I don’t put any added pressure on myself,” Merritt explained. “I’m just trying to compete and pitch to the best of my ability. I don’t put that added pressure on myself because I can only pitch as well as I can.”
Merritt has been the model of consistency all summer, except for a four start period during July when he gave up three or more runs in three of four starts.
Added pressure could have played a role as that was the time fellow left hander Shawn Morimando was promoted to Double-A Akron. Morimando was one of the pitching staff leaders, a role Merritt has since taken.
Looking back now, Merritt is able to realize he had to adjust his mental approach to the game in order to get back on track.
“The mental aspect comes into play in those situations,” he explained. “Its just baseball and you’re not going to have your best stuff every time. Don’t get caught up in your bad outings. Don’t let it bring you down.”
In four starts since giving up seven runs on July 25, Merritt has allowed no more than two earned runs in a start.
A promotion to Akron is expected for Merritt with the kind of season he has produced. It might not be in 2014, but a RubberDucks uniform is certainly in Merritt’s future next year.
Consistently hitting his spots, consistently keeping hitters off balance and consistently keeping hitters guessing are a few reasons Merritt has had a breakout season with the Mudcats in 2014.
Even with all of those things, there is one thing Merritt does above all else.
He consistently wins.
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.