KANSAS CITY -- Gil Meche hasn't even started his new career as a relief pitcher this year. Even so, he was asked if he envisioned himself in a bullpen role next year.
"Ninety-five percent, yeah," he said. "I mean, we've been at this for two years trying to start and my shoulder just doesn't recover [from] throwing 90 pitches in five days. So needing to be my best as a starting pitcher isn't going to work."
Meche will be in the last year of his five-year, $55-million contract in 2011. He's decided to skip shoulder surgery which would have knocked him out of pitching entirely next year.
He feels, though, he can pitch in relief and he's due to get his first test with one inning on Saturday night for Triple-A Omaha against Memphis up the highway in Nebraska.
"I'll be there all next week," Meche said. "I'm looking forward to it, I can't wait to get there, get in a game, let it go and see what happens."
Royals manager Ned Yost said Meche is scheduled to have a pitch limit of about 25. Then he'll make another outing of two innings or about 35 pitches, then a third at about 40 pitches.
"I want to get him built up for 40 pitches," Yost said. "I doubt if I'd ever use him for three innings but we're kind of shooting for two innings and have him built up for that."
Meche will pitch in the fifth inning or later for Omaha and always begin at the top of an inning. If all goes well and on schedule, he would pitch a final time on Aug. 31 and then go into the Kansas City bullpen.
"You can envision him pitching in the seventh or eighth inning once he gets settled into the role, but we'll just have to see how that all plays out," Yost said.
Meche is encouraged by several factors: His curveball of old is back, he's throwing all of his pitches, there's been no shoulder inflammation or fatigue, and he's not on any medication. He's ready for life in the bullpen.
"It's just something I wanted to do and I'm having as much fun as I can with it," Meche said.
Maier leaves finale with tight neck
KANSAS CITY -- Royals right fielder Mitch Maier left Thursday night's game against the Indians after seven innings because of tightness in the left side of his neck.
The Royals said the problem stemmed from Maier's collision with catcher Chris Gimenez in the second inning of Wednesday night's 9-7 victory. Maier banged into Gimenez at the plate as he was thrown out by right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
Maier was replaced in right field by Jai Miller, who made his Royals' debut. Miller batted in the eighth inning and grounded out to shortstop, only his second at-bat in the Major Leagues.
Wood happy with rebound performance
KANSAS CITY -- It's fairly easy to break down rookie reliever Blake Wood's season into three sections.
Wood, who joined the Royals in early May, broke in sensationally with a 0.84 ERA in his first 10 games covering 10 2/3 innings. In his next 19 games, things got rougher and his ERA was 10.06 over 17 innings. But, in his past 10 games up through Wednesday, his ERA was 0.87 over 10 1/3 innings.
"I wasn't getting hit at first. I don't know if it was luck or if I was making better pitches but I was doing good. I started getting away from my mental approach and things started going south," Wood said.
Maybe a slowdown was to be expected.
"How many rookies come to the big leagues and just dominate from day one? Ten percent of them? A very select few that are All-Star-type caliber players every year. Those guys can do it but even a lot of those guys don't succeed right away," Wood said.
Manager Ned Yost pointed out that one distraction for Wood was a project to cut down his delivery time to the plate, from about 1.8 seconds to about 1.3 seconds. That was needed to dissuade baserunners. But the process probably cut into Wood's effectiveness.
"We experimented with some things in his delivery that flattened his ball out but we got him back to where he has a good, strong, downhill delivery -- getting his arm back on top -- and throwing in the 1.3s to 1.35s so we accomplished everything we wanted to do," Yost said.
Wood made the adjustment rather quickly.
"He's right back to where he was before," Yost said.
And back to being the eighth-inning set-up man for closer Joakim Soria.
"I went from the eighth inning being under pressure to pitching bad and doing mop-up duty and then back to the eighth inning," Wood said. "So it's been a short and quick roller coaster, for sure."
This is his first full season of pitching in relief so it's been a period of learning and adjusting. Wood feels good about where he is now.
"I know I'm definitely better now than when I came up," he said. "A hundred percent better. My slider's better, my command is better, my changeup is better, everything's way better. My mentality is way better."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.