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Merritt has been a vital component of Lake County's success

Merritt has been a vital component of Lake County's success
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There are 22 weeks in the low-A season, but Ryan Merritt plans to outduel time.

The season commenced on April 4 and the Lake County Captains are presently seeking a spot in the Midwest League playoffs. Merritt will be an important part of the Captains’ playoff run and has been a vital component of their success so far. The 21-year-old left-hander began the year in Lake County and has every intention of finishing it with a full gas tank.

Merritt, a McKinney, Texas native, was taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 16th round of the 2011 draft out of McLennan Community College. He spent last year with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers, where he posted a 3-4 record with a 4.09 ERA, striking out 40 and walking 17 through 14 games.

Even short season ball feels lengthy at times, but Merritt said the experience was enlightening.

“It was my first season so I was a little inexperienced but throughout the season I learned more and more each time I pitched,” Merritt recalled. “My pitching coach taught me a lot to just battle throughout the year.”

The battle extended beyond the field as Merritt was required to adjust to his first season of professional ball. “It’s a lot to take in sometimes,”  he said. “The bus trips were long but you’ve just got to be patient with everything, not get stressed out, just stay positive.”

Merritt’s positive mindset carried over into spring training, where he said he felt more comfortable the second time around.

“Coming in your second year, you know what to expect,” he explained. “You know what you need to work on, your pitching coaches know more about you. You can work with them more on your pitches and they know more what to work on so it was a good experience.”

Merritt said he also spent the offseason at home, where he focused on working out, gaining weight and finding ways to relax. The work paid off as he was assigned to join the Captains in April, something he had hoped for.

Now, Merritt is working outside his comfort zone – and outside the strike zone.

“I used to just try to throw away, come in every once and a while,” he elaborated. “Batters would kind of get used to that and now I’ve been going inside a lot more and it’s helped me out a lot to keep batters off balance.”

Captains’  manager Scooter Tucker has also noticed Merritt’s improvements away from hitters. Tucker noted the irrelevancy of Merritt’s record in comparison to the starter’s talent and resiliency.

“He is a young man who is obviously talented and throws strikes but what I like most about him is he has been willing to listen and willing to try some things within game situations, not just in the bullpen, not just talking about it on chalkboard,” Tucker said. “He’s gone in and he’s changed his approach on how he’s pitching to guys and I think it has shown himself plus the organization that this kid has some aptitude to go along with ability.”

Currently, Merritt’s record stands at 6-9 with a 3.42 ERA but any Captains’  starter will attest to the lack of consistent run support this season. Merritt has also struck out 91 batters compared to the 18 walks he’s issued and leads the squad in innings pitched. As a result, the sole starting lefty has been placed on an innings limit effective as of July 26.

Merritt has felt the effects of logging long outings and lengthy innings, and he feels the extra months are the biggest difference between short season and low-A ball. “Last year was just June, July, August and this year, you’re starting from April ‘til August,” he noted. “I just think about where it’s going to get me. Working hard every day, it’s going to get me to the big leagues. That’s my mindset.”

So far, Merritt’s mindset has served him well. He’s learned to manage the emotional highs of his solid outings by taking things little by little.

“You’ve just got to take a deep breath,” he said. “Just step back and relax and don’t let too many things rush into your head. Think about one thing at a time that you need to do instead of everything coming at once.”

As Merritt’s attitude remains positive, so do the Captains hopes for a playoff run. The entire team looks to finish on a high note and Merritt merely wants to finish strong.

“At the end of the season, I want to show them that I can last a full season,” he emphasized. “I don’t want to blow out, tire out at the end of the season. I want to have a good end.”

Two weeks remain in the regular season but Ryan Merritt has had months to prove himself as one of Lake County’s most reliable arms. His biggest goal is to prove his durability while helping the team make a bid for the Midwest League playoffs. Time is winding down, but Merritt’s lengthy career is just starting.

Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.

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