Merritt, Indians blank Royals
CLEVELAND — It’s the kind of pitching all managers like to see. Aggressive, efficient and confident.
“When he’s pitching like that, it’s so much fun to watch,” Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona said of Ryan Merritt. “He doesn’t walk anyone, attacks the zone with whatever he throws, and he has a knack for staying off the barrel.”
That was Merritt in a nutshell Friday night. The soft-tossing Merritt pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and Francisco Lindor had two hits, including a two-run home run, as the Indians beat the Kansas City Royals 4-0 at Progressive Field.
Four pitchers combined for Cleveland’s American League-leading 13th shutout of the year.
Merritt (1-0) was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to make a spot start, and he made the most of it. The 25-year-old left-hander struck out three, walked one and scattered seven hits.
“He did a great job of spotting his fastball, getting us out front with his changeup, then rolled us over and we hit into a couple double plays,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said.
Merritt is the Indians’ designated spot starter. He has been called up from Columbus three times this year to make a start when needed.
“Going up and down is better than not coming up at all,” Merritt said. “I enjoy coming up and trying to win ballgames for them.”
Kansas City starter Jason Vargas (14-8) pitched five innings, allowing four runs on six hits with two strikeouts and two walks.
Vargas retired six of the first seven batters he faced until Yan Gomes led off the third inning by slapping a single to right field, snapping his 0-for-14 hitless streak. Giovanny Urshela, who had a career-high four RBIs Thursday night, bounced a double off the left-field wall, just out of the reach of left fielder Alex Gordon, scoring Gomes and giving Cleveland a 1-0 lead.
“Gordy thought he caught it,” Yost said. “It was in his glove, but came out.”
Urshela went to third on the throw home trying to get Gomes. Lindor grounded out to third, and Urshela had to hold third. But Austin Jackson singled to right field, scoring Urshela to make it 2-0.
Merritt allowed runners in four of the first five innings, but coaxed double play grounders to bail himself out of two of those innings. Through five innings the Royals had five hits, but no runs.
“We haven’t seen him much, but we had a pretty good idea of what to expect. He has good arm speed on his changeup,” Yost said.
“I had good command overall,” Merritt said. “Kept my changeup down and my cutter off the middle of the plate. I tried to change eye levels and tried to get ground balls for my infielders.”
In the bottom of the fifth, Urshela singled with one out then rode home on Lindor’s 23rd home run, his seventh in August, a long blast over the left-field wall off a 3-0 pitch from Vargas.
“Vargas threw OK, but he left a 3-0 fastball up for the home run,” Yost said.
Lindor’s 23 home runs are the most among all major league shortstops this season. The homer came after he had a throwing error on the first batter of the game, a grounder hit by Whit Merrifield leading off the first inning. But one batter later Lindor made a diving stop behind second base of a grounder hit by Melky Cabrera, starting an inning-ending double play.
“When some guys make an error, they hang their head. Frankie gets a chip on his shoulder,” Francona said. “When he doesn’t make a play, you know he’s going to make up for it.”
Lindor’s homer extended Cleveland’s lead to 4-0, and that was plenty for Merritt and relievers Joe Smith, Tyler Olson and Cody Allen.
NOTES: The Indians announced that LHP Andrew Miller, on the DL with right knee patellar tendinitis will be shut down for five to seven days and then will be re-evaluated. ... RHP Shawn Armstrong was optioned to Triple-A Columbus in order to make room on the roster for LHP Ryan Merritt, who was recalled from Columbus to make a spot start Friday night. ... Indians 1B Carlos Santana, who missed the previous three games due to tightness in his lower back, returned to the lineup Friday. ... Royals 3B Mike Moustakas, who needs two home runs to break Steve Balboni’s club record in a season (36 in 1985), did not play due to a sore knee. He’s day-to-day. . . The Royals (57) and Indians (61) have made the fewest errors in the American League. ... The Royals have hit 157 home runs this year. They are on a pace to hit 202, which would shatter the current club record of 168, set in 1987.