Sports

Indians rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt ready for first post-season start

TORONTO — Cleveland left-hander Ryan Merritt has a simple formula for how he'll handle the first post-season start of his career on Wednesday afternoon.

"Just breathe," he said with a smile after the Indians fell 5-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday.

"Just concentrate on the mitt, concentrate on (catcher) Roberto (Perez), and just pitch."

Merritt heads to the mound Wednesday with his team up 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. A win would put the Indians into the World Series for the first time since 1997. A loss brings the ALCS back to Cleveland for Game 6.

Asked if he feels any added pressure, Merritt, who hasn't had much experience pitching at the major league level let alone in the post-season, paused and smiled before answering.

"Not too much," he said through his grin. "Definitely I want to win, but I'm not going to try to put too much pressure on myself."

"Clinching this win would have been awesome, we'd be going to the World Series," he added. "But to get this opportunity tomorrow, it's awesome. It feels good that the team trusts me to go out there tomorrow."

A 16th round draft pick in 2011, Merritt made his big league debut on May 30, pitching 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief against the Texas Rangers before being sent back to triple-A. The 24-year-old made a second appearance with Cleveland in August and pitched twice more in September.

He finished the year 1-0 through four appearances (one start) with a 1.64 earned-run average.

"If you told me at the first of the season I'd be pitching in the ALCS, I don't know. I wouldn't have thought about it but I would've thought you were crazy," Merritt said. "I don't know, but it's awesome that it's here. I'm glad it's here."

Despite the lack of experience, Merritt's teammates seem confident in his abilities.

"He's obviously a good enough pitcher to get himself to this point," said Tuesday's starter Corey Kluber, who allowed two earned runs in the loss. "I don't think he needs any of us trying to go out there and tell him what to do."

"He likes to compete," added Perez. "He's a soft (throwing) lefty, not overpowering, but he wants to pitch, he wants to be out there and I expect him to pitch a good game."

Merritt is an unknown entity to the Blue Jays hitters, none of which have faced him at the big league level.

"What do I know about him? He's left-handed. That's all I know right now," Gibbons said following Tuesday's victory.

The Blue Jays, with their season on the line for a second straight game, turn to veteran Marco Estrada for Wednesday's matchup.

The 33-year-old right-hander has come up with big post-season victories before, including twice in win-or-go-home situations last year.

Estrada allowed two runs over eight innings his last time out in Game 1's 2-0 loss in Cleveland.

"All I can tell you is I've seen him the last two years," Gibbons said of Estrada. "When the team needs something he comes through."