The last laugh (cont.)
Posted: Wednesday May 9, 2007 1:29PM; Updated: Wednesday May 9, 2007 1:57PM
"My command has been a lot better," Meche said. "I'm still landing a little on my heel, but it's not as violent as in the past. I'm keeping the ball down better than I have, perhaps ever.
"... Whether it's that, I don't know, but I'm not going to change a thing."
It likely helped that he gained a quick rapport with John Buck, who's caught him in all seven starts. The two had lockers next to each other at their spring training facility in Surprise, Ariz.
Meche also confessed that he used to tinker with his delivery too much in bullpen sessions, laboring through 55 to 60 pitches. Under McClure's watch, he tries to keep his mechanics simple and not to exceed 35-40 pitches.
And he's begun relying more heavily on his cut fastball to go along with his low-90s four-seamer, his knuckle-curve and his change-up. Meche has enough confidence in his 88-90 mph cutter that he's been throwing it when behind in the count and even when the count's full.
"It's a good contact pitch," he said. "I'm getting it to the end of the bats of righties and getting a lot of groundballs."
Six years ago, Meche wasn't even in baseball. He had spent half of 1999 and half of 2000 in the Mariners' rotation, going 12-8 with a 4.25 ERA and showing the promise that had made him a first round pick out of Acadiana High School in Lafayette, La., in 1996.
Set to become a full-time major league starter, Meche had to scrap those plans thanks to a partially frayed rotator cuff, which required arthroscopic surgery in February 2001. The procedure was only supposed to sideline him until the All-Star break, but persisting shoulder discomfort nixed those plans and eventually demanded a second operation.
"My main concern was just coming back and throwing a baseball," Meche said. "I had a long season in 2001. I had the first surgery and kept having the same pain, so I had a second surgery in October."
Meche finally returned to the mound with Double-A San Antonio and maybe he wished he hadn't. In his first six starts, he was 0-3 with a 10.38 ERA in 21 2/3 innings; he recovered slightly and finished the year 4-6 with a 6.51 ERA in 65 innings.
"I didn't know what was going to happen," he said. "Coming back in 2002 in Double A, I had a horrible year. It wasn't until the winter leagues in Venezuela that everything finally clicked."
Even then, Meche was little better than a back-of-the-rotation starter over his next four big-league seasons, compiling a 43-36 record and 4.75 ERA and never reaching 200 innings in a season -- hardly the makings of an ace.
But, finally healthy and only 28 this season, he is starting to look better and better with each start. Meche knows the Royals will continue taking their lumps in the ultra-competitive AL Central, but he subscribes to general manager Dayton Moore's vision of a turnaround.
"One of the reasons I'm here is because I believe in him," Meche said.
And $55 million says Moore believes in Meche.