Even before Gil Meche took his first on-field step Tuesday toward returning to the Royals’ rotation, he rejected the suggestion that his back spasms _ or any of his health issues this season _ resulted from overuse by manager Trey Hillman.
“In every game,” Meche said, “it’s been (mostly) my decision about how much I pitched. Each time, he’s given me the respect to ask me. So it’s nonsense (to blame Hillman).”
Meche experienced back spasms while lasting just 3 2/3 innings in a July 11 start at Boston. When rest alone failed to alleviate the problem, he received an epidural injection last Saturday and was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
“I’m still kind of sore from where the shot was,” he said. “But I can move around a little bit better. I’m not as stiff.”
Meche tested his recovery Tuesday by playing catch in the outfield. Barring unexpected overnight problems, he plans to play long toss today in the outfield. That sets up a tentative bullpen session Friday with the possibility of pitching as soon as Monday in Baltimore.
“A lot of it has to do with picking up my leg,” he said. “The more I threw (in Boston), the harder it got to pick my leg up. That meant my back was getting tighter and tighter. That’s the biggest key (in the upcoming bullpen workout).
“I need to be able to pick my leg up and still feel loose and fluid. I have to be able to throw the ball and not think about how high I have to pick my leg up and not feel it in my back.”
Hillman drew criticism for permitting Meche to throw a career-high 132 pitches on June 16 to get a shutout in a 5-0 victory over Arizona. Meche is 0-4 in five starts since that victory.
Criticism escalated when Meche, after complaining of a dead arm in a June 26 start at Pittsburgh, threw 121 pitches in his next start. Meche’s back spasms in Boston further fueled complaints. Meche dismissed all three incidents.
“The shutout, he said, “it was a shutout! The last inning didn’t go the way I wanted it to happen. I figured 122 or 125 pitches _ somewhere in that range. But the last guy, I threw 10 pitches to.
“The time after the dead arm, I had great stuff. It was a case that, `I feel good, and I’m throwing hard,’ so there’s no reason for me to come out. So I went out for the extra inning and, the next thing you knew, I’d thrown 121 pitches. Suddenly it’s a big deal. But to me, it was no big deal.
“The problem in Boston was the mound was so flat. Any time I pitch on a flat mound, something happens. I can’t go from high to low (in delivering a pitch). It’s more of a torque and a torso twist from side to side. I had a bad feeling and, sure enough, something happened in the fourth inning.”
Hillman entered the double-header determined to find a slot to use closer Joakim Soria, who last worked July 12 at Boston after failing to pitch in any of the three weekend losses to Tampa Bay.
“You have to,” Hillman said. “Hopefully, you read the situation right in game one. Obviously, if it’s a close situation, even if it’s four outs, I’ll go ahead and do that. If for some reason, there’s not a need _ if we have a big lead and don’t want to burn him _ then we’ll look to get him in game two.”
Hillman said it was unlikely Soria would pitch in both games regardless of the circumstances.
Here’s a case of adding insult to injury for Royals outfielder Coco Crisp, who is out for the season while recovering from surgeries on both shoulders.
Sports Illustrated surveyed 380 current major-league players to determine which outfielder has the worst throwing arm.
Crisp placed third with 11 percent of the votes.
Former Royals outfielder Johnny Damon, now with the Yankees, was a runaway winner at 54 percent. Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre was second at 23 percent. Crisp was the only other outfielder to garner more than 2 percent of the votes.
Right-hander Juan Abreu worked around two walks in the ninth inning Monday night in preserving a 7-6 victory for Class AA Northwest Arkansas over Arkansas.
It was Abreu’s first appearance following his promotion from Class A Wilmington, where he compiled a 1.69 ERA while going 3-2 with 12 saves in 20 appearances.
Abreu, 24, was signed by the Royals in 2003 as a non-drafted free agent from the Dominican Republic.
It was 30 years ago Wednesday _ July 22, 1979 _ that George Brett hit a club-record three home runs in a game for the first time in his career. He drove in five runs in a 7-6 victory at Texas.
Brett also hit three homers on April 20, 1983 in an 8-7 victory at Detroit. He and John Mayberry are the only Royals to hit three home runs in two different games. Tony Solaita, Bo Jackson and Danny Tartabull each did it once.
Tartabull was the last to do it _ on July 6, 1991 in a 9-7 loss to Oakland at then-Royals Stadium.
•Former Royals pitchers Jeff Montgomery, Jaime Bluma and Paul Splittorff will make appearances today at the Community Blood Center at 4040 Main Street in connection with the Royals’ 17th annual blood drive. Montgomery will appear from 11 a.m. to noon; Bluma from 1-2 p.m.; and Splittorff from 2-3 p.m.
•Birthday wishes Wednesday to former Royals captain Mike Sweeney, who turns 36. Sweeney is currently on the disabled list at Seattle because of back spasms. He is batting .250 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 37 games.
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