Meches seven zeros add up to big plus for opener

Gil Meche’s excellent outing on Friday against the Dodgers gives the Royals’ rotation picture a huge boost.

Sure, everybody knew he was much better than he’d pitched this spring. He was not a 10.45 ERA guy. He’d proved himself in the last two years. Even so, there were those nagging thoughts: What if that back problem really hadn’t gone away? What if he’d just lost something? What if, what if?

Anyway, Meche blew away the doubts with seven shutout innings, breezing through in about 80 pitches and using just three in the last inning. So he looks ready for Opening Day.

Zack Greinke will go in the second game and, even though manager Trey Hillman won’t say so, Kyle Davies has the third starting job sewed up.

So how does it shake out for the other two, with Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, Horacio Ramirez and new arrival Sidney Ponson in the shootout?

Here’s a guess: Hochevar gets one spot because, frankly, he’s looked good enough to win it. The other spot goes to Ramirez unless that loose fingernail problem pops up again and proves to be a problem. The Royals badly want a left-hander in the rotation, just to break things up, and they think Ramirez will be better once he unleashes his cutter. He’s purposely held off on that pitch, which might be his best, while he improves his other pitches.

Bannister, who’s struggled most of the spring, gave himself a boost with five shutout innings in a Minor League game the other day. But it’d be easy for the Royals to send him to Triple-A Omaha to work on finding himself again. Likewise, because Ponson has pitched in just one Cactus League game and there’s time for him to pitch just one more, it’d be logical to send him to Omaha for more tune-ups. Then if somebody falters or gets hurt, the call can quickly go out to Bannister or Ponson.

The Royals can dip down and pull up a proven Major League starter. It’s nice to have that kind of depth and it’s something they haven’t had for a while.

–Dick Kaegel

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