Log it in: Yes, the Royals’ bullpen coughed up the decisive run Wednesday afternoon in a 6-5 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Kauffman Stadium. And, yes, that wilted the starch from what had the makings of a nice comeback victory.
So again, yes, the relief corps remains an open sore on a team whose 8-13 record could easily be reversed. But there is also the growing concern regarding Gil Meche, who escaped a loss despite offering up a fourth straight disappointing start.
“The biggest thing is I’m just losing counts,” Meche said. “My off-speed pitches aren’t consistent because I’m not getting to the point where I can throw them.”
We’ll get back to Meche. First, the bullpen.
It was 5-5 when Milton Bradley opened the Seattle eighth inning with a double into the left-center gap against reliever Brad Thompson. Bradley moved to third on Mike Sweeney’s topper to Thompson, which brought Dusty Hughes into the game for a left-on-left matchup against Casey Kotchman.
That strategy fizzled when Hughes walked Kotchman on five pitches.
Rob Johnson followed with a sacrifice fly to left that gave Seattle a 6-5 lead, which is how it ended. The Mariners loaded the bases in the ninth against Hughes and Robinson Tejeda but came up empty.
It didn’t matter.
Mark Lowe and David Aardsma rolled through the Royals over the final two innings in allowing the Mariners, 11-11, to win the series’ final two games after dropping Monday’s opener.
Aardsma got his eighth save in nine chances, while the victory went to Brandon League, 3-1, in relief of starter Ryan Rowland-Smith. Thompson, 0-1, got the loss. The Royals’ bullpen is now 3-7 with a 6.44 ERA and seven blown saves in 13 opportunities.
About the comeback: The Royals trailed 5-1 before knocking out Rowland-Smith in a four-run sixth inning. They loaded the bases with a single, a hit batsman and a walk before getting a pair of two-out hits.
Jason Kendall floated a two-run single into right, and Mitch Maier pulled the Royals even by lashing a two-run triple into the right-field corner. That finished Rowland-Smith, but League stranded Maier at third by retiring Willie Bloomquist on a grounder to short.
The four-run sixth took Meche off the hook for a loss after allowing five runs and eight hits in six innings. It did little, though, to quell mounting concerns. He has a 10.13 ERA through four starts while allowing 27 hits and 15 walks in 18 2/3 innings.
Meche battled various injuries over the last 14 months -- neck, back and shoulder -- but insists he’s now healthy: “If I’m 115 pitches into a game, and I’m throwing 94 miles an hour, then nothing is wrong. It’s just a matter of becoming consistent.”
If Meche is healthy, manager Trey Hillman acknowledges that leaves little choice but to keep handing him the ball every fifth game.
“You keep going and hope he commands the ball,” Hillman said. “He has a history of being a pretty good starting pitcher. We just haven’t seen it with any consistency this year. He’s had spots.”
Meche pitched out of a two-on, no-out jam in the first by striking out Franklin Gutierrez and retiring José Lopez and Bradley on pops to the outfield.
The jams continued; the escapes didn’t.
First, the Royals jumped to a 1-0 lead when David DeJesus opened their first by tomahawking a 1-2 fastball into the right-field seats for a homer.
Seattle answered in the second after Sweeney led off with a walk and went to third on Kotchman’s single to right. Johnson produced the run with a double-play grounder.
The Mariners took a 4-1 lead with a three-run fifth.
Johnson led off with a walk and went to third when Jack Wilson floated a double past third along the left-field line. Ichiro Suzuki’s squibbler died one-third the way up the third-base line for an RBI single and a 2-1 lead.
That, perhaps, was unfortunate, but Chone Figgins followed by ripping a two-run triple over DeJesus’ head in right.
Meche found more trouble in the sixth after Sweeney led off with a single and went to third on Kotchman’s double past first. Johnson struck out, but Wilson hit a sacrifice fly to right that made it 5-1.
“I’ve got to throw off-speed pitches for strikes,” Meche said, “especially with my curveball. That’s a pitch where I’ve got to get ahead to be able to throw it. To make guys swing at it, No. 1. They’re not going to swing at it early in counts, especially when you’re not commanding it.
“It’s a matter of staying positive and to keep working. I’m having good bullpen sessions in-between starts. I’m doing the things I think are going to help me become consistent. But until you do it in a game, it doesn’t matter.”