CLEVELAND — Ryan Merritt didn’t look like a rookie Friday night.
Merritt pitched a career-high 6 2/3 innings and the Cleveland Indians recorded their AL-leading 13th shutout with a 4-0 win over the Kansas City Royals.
“He’s not breaking the radar gun, but when he’s pitching like that he’s so fun to watch,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
Merritt (1-0) was called up from Triple-A Columbus before the game to take the injured Danny Salazar’s spot in the rotation. The 25-year-old left-hander scattered seven hits for his second career win, both coming against Kansas City.
Merritt is beginning his fifth stint with the Indians this season.
“Going up and down is better than not coming up,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunity. I want to be that guy they can call upon when they need to.”
Three relievers finished the eight-hitter for the AL Central leaders, who stayed 5 1/2 games ahead of second-place Minnesota.
Kansas City left-hander Jason Vargas (14-8) allowed four runs in five innings. He has dropped four of his five August starts.
Francisco Lindor hit a two-run drive in the fifth for his 23rd homer of the season. Cleveland also scored twice in the second on Giovanny Urshela’s double and Austin Jackson’s single.
Merritt retired the first two hitters in the seventh in his third major league start of the season, but was pulled after walking Cheslor Cuthbert and giving up a single to Alex Gordon. Joe Smith then retired Whit Merrifield on a line drive to right.
Merritt made four regular-season appearances last season and is best remembered for his performance in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series against Toronto. He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings in the win that put the Indians in the World Series.
Merritt’s performance bailed out Cleveland’s injury-ravaged rotation. Fans were so appreciative that they helped fill the registry for his wedding that took place in the offseason.
Lindor’s home run came on a 3-0 pitch and landed in the left-field bleachers.
“I wasn’t trying to get something over,” Vargas said. “I had a good idea he was swinging, I was trying to throw a fastball up. I just threw it on the inner half and belt high.”
Third-place Kansas City fell to seven games out in the division. Catcher Salvador Perez, who was out for two weeks with a right intercostal strain, was checked by a team trainer after a fourth-inning single but remained in the game.
Gordon, batting .198 going into the game, was 3 for 3 with a double.
“It was good,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “I had a gut feeling Gordy would be the guy, and he ended up getting three hits.”
Smith was wearing the pants Indians players use for their pregame workouts during the game. Francona kidded him about it when removing him in the eighth.
“I told (pitching coach) Mickey Callaway, ‘I want him to get this out so bad because I want to go out there and tell him that he looks so dumb.’ I couldn’t wait,” Francona said.
Royals: 3B Mike Moustakas didn’t start for the second straight game because of a sore knee.
Indians: RHP Josh Tomlin (strained left hamstring) made his first rehab start, allowing five runs — three earned — in 3 2/3 innings at Single-A Mahoning Valley. … 1B Carlos Santana returned after missing three games because of back tightness.
Kansas City right-hander Jason Hammel (6-9, 4.73 ERA) defeated the Indians on Sunday, allowing three runs in six innings. He has won all three starts against Cleveland this season. Right-hander Mike Clevinger (6-5, 3.97 ERA) will start against the Royals for the third time this season. He has a win and a no-decision against Kansas City.