By Alex Hooper | 92.3 The Fan

CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – It may not have been the biggest game Ryan Merritt has ever pitched in as a Cleveland Indian, but it was surely the best.

The 25-year old lefty made his first career start at his home stadium despite seven career appearances and three starts prior, and did not disappoint. Merritt tossed a career-high 6 2/3 innings, scattering seven hits, but not allowing a run.

Like Josh Tomlin, another relatively soft-tosser, Merritt was lauded by Manager Terry Francona for his ability to avoid free passes. His career walk rate at the major league level was 1.3%, with a 5.3% mark at Triple-A Columbus in 18 starts this season.

He walked one hitter on Friday.

“He just attacks the zone with whatever he’s throwing, whether it’s a fastball or just a little bit with a changeup off it or spinning it a little bit,” Francona said. “But he just kind of has a knack for staying off the barrel.”

One of the reasons for that knack, according to the skipper, was Merritt’s ability to pitch inside effectively. Take one look at his pitch chart against the Royals’ righties on Friday, and you can see that.

chart 14 Smoke Signals: Merritt Locates, Lindor Bounces Back Again

The pitcher himself noted that he was able to place his changeup effectively. Though his fastball sits at just 86.6 mph and the changeup only slightly less at 82 mph, the difference caused Royals hitters to put double the amount of balls in play on the change than they did on fastballs.

Kansas City was 3-for-12 on balls in play from the changeup.

“I just got on a good page early with Yan,” Merritt said. “The changeup, I was keeping it down in the zone. Cutter, not leaving it out over the plate. So, just mixing in my pitches, changing eye levels and trying to get the ball on the ground to my defense.”

chart 15 Smoke Signals: Merritt Locates, Lindor Bounces Back Again

The southpaw will continue to go back and forth between the majors and minors when needed, though he has put himself in a better position to compete for a bigger role going forward.

For now, the Texas native is happy with his role.

“I always want to be that guy that they can call upon when they need to,” he said. “Going up and down, it’s better than not coming up, you know? I just appreciate the opportunity to come up here and try to compete and win ballgames for them.”

Ear to ear

The only time Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor isn’t smiling, it seems, is when he commits a rare error. But in the infrequent occurrence that it happens, there consistently seems to be a moment where it seems as if “Mr. Smile” should struggle in the field more often.

Lindor short-hopped a throw to first base on the first batter of the game, allowing Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield to reach base and then steal second.

Sure enough, the platinum-glover rebounded as he always seems to after an error, responding by making a heady play to throw Merrifield out at third on a groundball by Lorenzo Cain. The next batter, with Cain on first via the fielder’s choice, Lindor made a diving play into the hole behind second base, starting an inning-ending double play with a flip of the glove.

Then in the 5th inning, the switch-hitter extended the Tribe lead to four with a two-run home run, extending his home run total to 23, a major league-leading mark among shortstops.

The two-time All-Star would not go as far as to say more errors would lead to more production, but he did say random blunders do force him to refocus.

“It definitely turned my radar on where I was like, ‘I’ve got to make it up. I’ve got to do something to help my team,’” Lindor said. “Regardless of what it is, I’ve got to do something. Your focus goes from 110 to 120 percent.”

Francona said that an error by his most trustworthy defender leads to so many positivity, so often, that Bench Coach Brad Mills even forecasted it.

“As soon as he made that error, Millsy looked at me, he says, ‘Well Frankie’s going to have a good game,’” the manager laughed. “He has that characteristic where when he doesn’t make a play, he’s going to make up for it.”

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