The focus of this column today will be squarely on Gil Meche and the fantastic job he did last night in hurling a four-hit shutout, but I would be remiss if I didn't note just how poorly the Arizona Diamondbacks played last night.
To steal a quote from Nate Bukaty on this morning's show on WHB, "Arizona was charged with three errors last night and I don't think any of those were the three worst defensive plays they made."
A lost fly ball turned into a double, a dropped bloop fly (tough, but makeable play) for another double—Mike Jacobs must have good karma to be the beneficiary of both of those—and a cutoff throw that I'm pretty sure might have nailed a Royal runner at the plate.
Hey, the Royals have played enough of those games themselves to deserve being on the other side for a change.
None of that, however, should take anything away from the job Meche did last night.
Meche pitched a complete game only allowing four singles (two of the infield variety), one walk, and six strikeouts on his way to the shutout. It was a continuation of a dominant stretch of pitching that began on May 30 (his 11th start of the year) when Gil held the White Sox to two runs over seven innings. Since that game, Meche has thrown 29 innings, allowed just 19 hits, three runs, walked 11 and struck out 26 on his way to fashioning a 0.93 ERA.
In 2008, after struggling early, Meche started his 11th game on May 25 and from that point on threw 150.2 innings, allowing only 140 hits and 56 runs, walking 52 and fanning 140, with an ERA of 3.34. He pitched six innings or more in 19 of those 24 starts and NEVER pitched less than five innings over that stretch.
While 2007 did not follow the same pattern (3.10 ERA prior to start 11, 4.20 afterward), it appears that Gil might be settling in once more as the weather heats up and could very well be ready to give the Royals a devastating one-two punch at the top of the rotation.
Is that enough to run down the Tigers? Probably not, but it is enough to keep a .500 record in sight for this team.
Of course the rub of last night will be the pitch count: 132 in all.
As Royals fans, we have all become conditioned to see the dark lining of every silver cloud. Invariably, there will be some concern, maybe even angst, over the fact that Gil tossed those 132 pitches last night (only Roy Halladay has thrown more in one game this year—although it should be noted that at no point have I heard that Roy's arm has completely fallen off).
I have to tell you, pitch counts kind of bug me. On one hand, I pay a great deal of attention to them, if for no other reason that the bigger that number gets, the closer we get to seeing Trey Hillman make a bullpen decision. On the other hand, I actually despise those (both inside and outside the game) who are certain that 98 pitches never hurt anyone and 106 is a death sentence.
In the case of Meche in particular, pitch counts have less relevance than for anyone else on the Royals' staff. After last night, Gil has hurled over 1,300 innings in his career and 510.2 in two years and two-and-one-half months as a Royal.
This is not a fragile 23-year-old who has never touched triple digits in pitch counts, this is Gil freaking Meche.
Before last night, Meche had thrown 110 or more pitches 26 different times as a Royal. He had tossed 120 or more pitches four times prior to Tuesday evening. This is hardly uncharted territory.
Frankly, after Miguel Olivo threw out Gerardo Parra to end the eighth inning, Meche deserved the chance to go for the shutout, and standing at 110 pitches with just a slight decline in velocity after eight innings, there was no reason not to send him out for the ninth.
Had it not been for a 10-pitch Stephen Drew at-bat to end the game, the pitch count would have stayed in the low 120s—certainly no cause for alarm.
Now, those of you who watched the game on television, heard John Buck observe that "Gil is pretty much gassed" when Drew game to the plate.
Without a doubt, Meche was pitching more on adrenaline and experience than stuff at that point, but isn't that what being a staff leader is all about?
Is it a stretch to say that finishing off that game might have spoken volumes to the likes of Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies?
I think it does.
The ace of this pitching staff is certainly Zack Greinke.
The leader of this staff, without question, is Meche. Maybe it was just the Diamondbacks and just interleague play, but that was a big-time performance by Meche on Tuesday night.
At this point, would you expect anything less?