When Ryan Merritt was announced as Cleveland’s game five starter, a collective “who” could be heard across the country. With just 11 innings in the major leagues this year, Merritt is an unknown to even some of the most passionate baseball fans. If your first reaction upon hearing his name was to head to FanGraphs or Baseball Reference, you weren’t alone.
So before game 5, which could send Cleveland to their first World Series appearance since 1997, here’s a quick primer on Ryan Merritt.
The 24 year old lefty was selected 488th overall in the 2011 draft, long past the pomp and circumstance of the first few rounds. Despite Merritt’s low profile in prospect rankings, he’s slowly but surely climbed his way from Rookie ball to the ALCS roster in just six seasons. While that may sound unimpressive on the surface, keep in mind that the number one overall pick in 2013 still hasn’t made his major league debut.
In 143.1 innings with AAA this season, Merritt posted modest numbers, as he struck out 5.78 batters per nine innings, and finished with a 3.70 ERA. He made four appearances for Cleveland after his call-up, culminating in five innings of one-run ball against the Kansas City Royals.
Even with a 3-1 lead in the ALCS, Cleveland knows all too well how quickly that can disappear. Merritt will likely have an incredibly short leash, as Terry Francona could turn to Andrew Miller to save the game at any moment. After not pitching in Tuesday’s loss, Miller could theoretically be called upon for three innings or more, depending on his pitch count. In what will be Merritt’s second major league start ever, he’ll need to be at his absolute best, and try to prevent a possible game 6 back in Cleveland.