Gil Meche won't have season-ending shoulder surgery

Gil Meche won’t be having season-ending shoulder surgery.

Instead, he’ll be starting a rehabilitation program that he hopes will have him ready to pitch in the bullpen in September. Doctors told him surgery would preclude him from pitching the 2011 season and might have been career ending.

It would’ve been his third career shoulder surgery. His other two came in 2001.

“I took an option of not having it,” Meche said. “My shoulder’s beat up and everything. We’re going a different option. The only way to play out my contract and contribute something to this organization, having surgery wasn’t the way to go.

“For me, starting pitching is not an option for me. I’m going to pitch in the bullpen and see if my shoulder can handle it. As far as the endurance and stress, my shoulder can’t do it.”

The plan once September rolls around is for him to throw between 20 and 40 pitches every other day in relief. He has allowed three earned runs over 5 1/3 innings pitched (5.06 ERA) in his four career appearances from the bullpen.

Meche has also traditionally begun his starts slowly. Over the first 45 pitches in his career, he has a 5.11 ERA over 588 1/3 innings pitched.

“Our focus on him is to try to maybe rehab him back as a reliever and have him in a position where he’s available for us,” manager Ned Yost said. “That’s the goal, to rehab him back. I think that’s something the muscles in his shoulder can handle, 40 pitch stints.

“One-hundred-pitch stints, that’s pushing it a little bit. Forty-pitch stints, I think you could use him every other day and keep him healthy and part of our club and be a productive part of our club.”

When asked if starting in 2011 was an option, Meche responded he didn’t think so. Yost was a little more optimistic.

“We’ll see,” he said. “To make plans like that is too far out. We’ll have to see if he’s capable of being a viable reliever. When it comes to spring training, maybe he can get back into a starting role with rest and rehabbing in that shoulder area and strengthening the muscles around the shoulder area that’s inflamed.”

Meche was originally placed on the disabled list with what was diagnosed as right shoulder bursitis, or inflammation within the shoulder. He had expected to have surgery this week to repair any injuries within his shoulder and thought the best-case scenario would have him ready for spring training.

His five-year, $55 million contract runs through the 2011 season. He is 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA. If he returns September 1, when 40 players are eligible to be on the major league roster rather than 25, he’ll have missed 86 games.