Minor League Baseball

Consistency has been best weapon of Mudcats' lefty Ryan Merritt

cbest@newsobserver.comJuly 4, 2014 

Carolina Mudcats starter Ryan Merritt is 9-2 this season, and his 1.65 ERA is the lowest for a Mudcats starter since 2009, not that he notices. “I don’t even ever look at my stats,” he said.

COURTESY OF THE CAROLINA MUDCATS — <137>Courtesy of the Carolina Mudcats <137>CAROLINA MUDCATS

  • July 4 fireworks

    Five County Stadium: The Mudcats continue their weekend series against the Salem Red Sox. There will be fireworks after Friday’s 7 p.m. game. The Mudcats will have another fireworks show after Saturday’s game.

    Durham Bulls Athletic Park: The Bulls are out of town, but the fireworks show will go on after Team USA plays Chinese Taipei at 6:05 p.m. There will be more fireworks after Saturday’s game.

— If Ryan Merritt focused on numbers, particularly the kind the Texas left-hander has put up for the Carolina Mudcats this summer, he would have a hard time not being impressed.

Alas, he doesn’t, so he has no interest in the stat lines he has compiled through the first half of the season.

“I don’t even ever look at my stats,” said Merritt, who pitched seven effective innings Wednesday night and improved to 9-2. “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 that better than most.

Merritt, 22, carries the lowest earned-run average for a Mudcats starting pitcher since 2009 at 1.65.

That’s better 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 three pitches (a fastball, change-up and curveball), throws 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. 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. With a fastball that tops out at 89, he relies on location, location, location – his ability to hit spot after spot when he wants.

That’s how a pitcher compiles what Karsay thinks is his most impressive stat: a 0.905 WHIP (walks and hits allowed per inning pitched).

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

When he was drafted (16th round in 2011) by the Cleveland Indians a year out of McLennan (Waco, Texas) Community College, Merritt was looking at transfer offers from four-year colleges. He had drawn interest from Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M.

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

Harder as you go

“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 has 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 18 walks in 98 1/3 innings this season and works on average into the seventh inning of every start.

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

It’s working. Beyond his contributions to the Mudcats, Merritt also pitched a hitless inning in the California/Carolina League All-Star Game last month. He knows there are more levels to climb.

“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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