Carolina's Ryan Merritt has improved greatly this season, but the left-hander hasn't made any major mechanical changes. Instead, Merritt said he's simply learning more about the process of pitching.
Merritt has an 8-2 record with a 1.58 ERA that's tops in the Carolina League through 14 starts. He pitched well in his first two full Minor League seasons but had a combined record of 9-13. It's been a different story this season.
The 22-year-old accepted the fact that he needs to rely on pitch location and command since his fastball usually tops out in the high 80s. He also features a changeup and curve, but his command and pitch location this season have made him a more effective pitcher.
Merritt started so well this season that he was the league's starting pitcher in the California League-Carolina League All-Star Game two weeks ago, where he cruised through a scoreless first inning.
"I've learned that I'm not a power guy," Merritt said. "I'm not going to go out there and try to strike everyone out. I just found that I'm a ground-ball pitcher, and I want them to hit the pitches I want them to and in the least amount of pitches."
Merritt's stuck with that philosophy and said he aims at throwing first-pitch strikes and having batters hit one of the first three pitches.
Carolina pitching coach Steve Karsay said that style will give a pitcher success at any level.
"He's grown so much as a pitcher in many different aspects," Karsay said. "Calmness, presence, [the] demeanor to compete in tight situations. You can't teach it. He's stuck with the process."
Merritt, picked by the Indians in the 16th round of the 2011 Draft, said he's simply building on what he's learned as a pitcher. He's been sticking with a game plan he's comfortable with throughout the season and getting better at what he's doing.
"I'm just building on it," Merritt said. "I wouldn't say I'm doing the exact same thing as past years, but I've definitely learned."
His consistency is something that everyone with the Mudcats has noticed. Some of the players just call it "Ryan being Ryan," and he's effective in that mode.
Merritt has given Carolina quality starts in 10 of his 14 outings and gone at least seven innings seven times. He's also struck out 69 batters with just 17 walks, and opposing batters are hitting .198 against him.
"He's got to be able to locate, he's got to be able to keep the ball down in the zone and he's got to be able to change speeds," Karsay said. "He can do all of that."
The winners: Potomac and Myrtle Beach were the first-half division winners. The Pelicans posted a league-best 44-24 record and won the Southern Division by 11 games, while the P-Nats ended up 38-31 and took first in the Northern Division by 4 ½ games.
Twice as nice: Frederick's Mike Yastrzemski and Tucker Nathans both had two hits in an eight-run first inning against Potomac on Monday night. Each player doubled and singled, but the Keys lost a nine-run lead before Michael Burgess hit a solo homer in the ninth that gave them a 10-9 victory
Welcome back: Winston-Salem pitcher Terance Marin has allowed only one run in 19 innings since coming back to the Dash from independent baseball. His latest effort came Monday when he threw a career-high eight scoreless innings in a 3-0 victory over Carolina. Marin gave up just two hits and improved to 2-0.