Meche knows all eyes are on him
New Royals rotation anchor ready as camp gets under way
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Every team wants one, every team needs one, and for the first time in his big-league career, right-hander Gil Meche could be one -- the ace of a pitching staff."One of the reasons I came over here was to have a chance to be the guy that starts winning streaks, prolongs winning streaks and stops losing streaks," the confident 28-year-old said Saturday while preparing for the Royals' first workout of Spring Training. "I feel I can be a guy who can do those things." The Royals are banking on it. Of the many moves general manager Dayton Moore orchestrated during the offseason in an effort to rebuild a pitching staff and give manager Buddy Bell a fighting chance in the tough American League Central Division, plucking Meche off the free-agent market with a five-year, $55 million contract offer was the big one. Meche immediately became the highest-paid pitcher in franchise history. He sauntered into the home clubhouse a little after 7 a.m. MT, on Saturday, walked to his locker, conducted an interview and proceeded to put on his work clothes for his first official day as a member of the Royals. "I'm glad to be here, get camp started, have some fun, try not to do too much too early and point to the start of the regular season," he said. All signs point to Meche being on the Kauffman Stadium pitching mound April 2 when the Royals play the Boston Red Sox in the regular-season opener. It would be the first Opening Day assignment of his six-year big-league career. That's when the sky-high expectations really kick in. With the mega contract virtually printed on the back of his jersey -- he wears No. 55 -- there always will be a reminder of how far the Royals went to add a veteran pitcher with some success to the rotation. The former first-round draft choice had a 55-44 career record and a history of inconsistency during six seasons with the Mariners. There were times when Meche looked like a Cy Young Award candidate, and other times when he seemed lost on the mound. He recognizes he must be more consistent with the Royals than he was with the Mariners and begins the next chapter of his career with a clear mind, strong right arm and an equally strong determination.
"I've had some ups and downs the past six years," he said, "but I know what I am capable of doing. I know the potential I have."But some of his loudest critics paint a different picture. "I read some of the things people said after I signed the contract and people have their opinions," Meche said. "It didn't make me mad as much as it made me more determined to do well. I know what I'm capable of doing, and although I haven't done it consistently over six months, I've pitched some good games in the past. Hopefully this year I will stay consistent."
Anything less would be a step in the wrong direction."We don't expect him to go 30-0," Bell said. "There are going to be some periods when he's out of sync at some point. "I expect Gil to do well and just to be Gil Meche. As long as he goes out there and does his best every start, he'll be just fine. We expect him to be well, but as far as putting numbers on him, I won't do that." Meche says his primary mission is to help lead the Royals out of the franchise's recent doldrums. The team has lost at least 100 games the past three seasons and finished last in the AL Central each year. "I hope to get off to a good start and have it rub off on other guys in the rotation," he said. "I want to help get this team off in the right direction and prove to the front office that they made a good decision in going out there, getting me, and putting some of their faith in my hands to help this team win." Rafael Chaves, the Mariners pitching coach who worked with Meche at the Major and Minor League levels, says a change-of-address could be beneficial. "Who knows what will happen, but Gil has the tools to be one of the good ones," Chaves said. "To me, all he needs is to improve on his consistency." Those are the magic words. Well, those and $55 million.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.