PHOENIX | Look past the offensive output — as welcome as it was — over the last two days. It is a resurgent rotation that has the Royals showing signs of pulling out of an extended slump.
Gil Meche produced the unit’s sixth quality start in seven games Sunday in an 8-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. That followed a stretch in which the rotation delivered just five quality starts in a 20-game span.
“Anybody will tell you that pitching is contagious,” he said. “It’s just like hitting. You get on a roll as a staff where everybody gets deep into the ballgame, everybody just feeds off of it. You feel that you can go out there and do the same thing.”
Meche allowed three earned runs in 7 1/3 innings. Luke Hochevar gave up two earned runs in seven innings Saturday in a 12-3 victory. Zack Greinke pitched seven shutout innings Friday in a no-decision.
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“It’s a little different,” Meche said, “if a guy goes out there and throws only 4 2/3 or five innings. You feel like you’ve got to pick up the slack for the bullpen. You tend to go out there and overwork a little bit. We just came in here and pitched and pitched well.”
The bullpen battled it own demons over the last month, including coughing up a pair of 5-1 leads last week in the late innings in losses to Texas. The unit allowed just one run in six innings in the three games against Arizona.
“The key for us is starters going at least seven innings,” Meche said. “Our bullpen has been getting beat up of late. This was a good series to let them settle down and get refreshed — especially with the day off coming (today).”
Injured pitchers Leo Nuňez and John Bale, as expected, remained in Arizona when the club traveled to St. Louis. Both will continue their rehabilitation at the Royals’ year-round complex in nearby Surprise.
“We’re looking at both of them right before or right after the All-Star break,” Hillman said. “I don’t think it’s going to be much before that, though.”
Nuňez hasn’t pitched since May 27 because of a strained lat muscle at the upper back of his rib cage. Bale is recovering from a broken hand. His last appearance was April 15 in Seattle.
“We’ve got to be careful with Noonie simply because of the injury,” Hillman said, “where it is, and because of the violence of his delivery. If he wasn’t a max-effort guy, he might have the opportunity to come back a little sooner.”
I-70 SERIES MATCHUPS
The Royals get to enjoy downtown St. Louis on Monday because of an open date in the schedule before starting a three-game series Tuesday against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
It’s the first of two I-70 Series revivals as part of interleague play. The teams also meet June 27-29 at Kauffman Stadium. The Cardinals hold a 26-19 lead in the series after winning 14 of the last 20.
Here are the pitching matchups: Tuesday: RHP Kyle Davies, 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA, vs. St. Louis RHP Joel Pineiro, 2-3 and 4.41, at 7:15 p.m.
Wednesday: RHP Brian Bannister, 5-6 and 5.00, vs. St. Louis RHP Braden Looper, 8-5 and 4.34, at 7:15 p.m.
Thursday: RHP Zack Greinke, 5-4 and 3.48, vs. St. Louis RHP Todd Wellemeyer, 7-2 and 3.67, at 1:15 p.m.
The Royals have signed 24 of their 51 picks in the recent first-year player draft, including five of their 11 picks in the first 10 rounds. The highest signee is second-round pick Johnny Giovatella, a second baseman from New Orleans who received a $787,000 bonus.
Right-hander Ryan Morgan, a 26th-round pick from Rockhurst, is among the players who have already been assigned to short-season Idaho Falls, which begins play Tuesday at home against Casper.
David DeJesus’ grand slam was the second by the Royals in nine games. José Guillen hit one on June 7 in a 12-11 loss to the Yankees. Before that, the Royals had gone 237 games without a slam.
Guillen entered the game leading the big leagues in doubles and boosted his total to 25 with a leadoff double in the fourth. His 10-game hitting streak matches a season high. His career record is 11 in 2003 with the Reds.
Meche is the first Royals pitcher to get 10 strikeouts in a game since Zack Greinke had 10 on Sept. 20, 2007 against the White Sox.
Meche lost his only two previous games when he recorded 10 or more strikeouts. Both were with the Mariners.
The Diamondbacks optioned ex-Royals pitcher Billy Buckner to Class AAA Tucson before the game. They replaced him by recalled pitcher Leo Rosales.