Despite the Royals' 11-4 loss to the Angels on Monday, there were some positive developments. Gil Meche threw well in his second start of the spring, and Alex Gordon returned to action after being sidelined with a stiff right shoulder. We also have some news about a pair of players who unexpectedly may have a shot at winning starting roles on the club.
Gil Meche on Monday made his second start of the spring for the Royals, tossing four innings while striking out four and surrendering two runs on four hits. He was particularly dominant in the first inning, when he struck out Tommy Murphy on a dirty curve and blew away Erick Aybar with a 95 mph fastball. Meche's only blemish on the day came when he left a two-seamer up to Jeff Mathis, who deposited it over the left field wall for a two-run home run. Through his first two starts, Meche now sports a 2.57 ERA this spring.
The best news of the day was the return of Alex Gordon. Gordon pinch ran for Mike Sweeney in the sixth inning, and he remained in the game as the designated hitter. In his lone at bat in the ninth inning, Gordon hit a high fly ball to shallow center, which the centerfielder dropped for a two-base error. Gordon then came around to score on an RBI single by second baseman Richard Lewis.
Gordon launched a high fly ball to center in his ninth inning at bat
We caught up with Gordon after the game, and he told us that his shoulder feels "good" and that he's scheduled to start at third in Tuesday's game vs. the Angels.
Following Dewon Brazelton's disastrous fifth inning on Monday, in which he surrendered six runs, Jarod Plummer made his spring debut, entering the game to pitch the sixth. Plummer was acquired by the Royals prior to the 2006 season, and he put up excellent numbers – 114 strikeouts against just 20 walks in 95.2 IP – while pitching for High Desert. His performance put him back on the map as a prospect, and the Royals were high enough on him that he emerged as a dark horse candidate to win a job in the bullpen this spring. However, the Royals added several pitchers to their bullpen mix during the offseason, so Plummer will look to build upon his 2006 success back in the minors this season. Nevertheless, Plummer told RC that his spring is going well.
"I've been here since February 21, and I've thrown a lot of bullpens," said Plummer. "This was my first actual time throwing against hitters without an L-screen in front of me, so I thought it went pretty good."
Plummer struck out two batters and allowed two earned runs in his inning of work on Monday
Plummer entered the game and wasted little time recording two outs. He struck out Henry Stratia on an 88 mph fastball that was tipped into John Buck's mitt, but he then surrendered a two-out walk to Reggie Willits. Tommy Murphy followed with a tape measure blast onto the roof of the right field pavilion, giving the Angels a 10-0 lead. However, Plummer recovered to strike out Aybar on a nasty breaking ball.
"It was a forkball," said Plummer after the game. "We got him 0-2 or 1-2, and the forkball is pretty good against lefties, so I figured I'd throw that, and I got the strikeout."
On the whole, Plummer was pleased with his performance, and he enjoyed pitching in the Major League environment.
"I just came in and tried to throw strikes, basically following up on what I did last year. It was my first time over here. It felt pretty good, other than the one bad pitch I had. Being around this atmosphere felt great."
Buddy Bell last week made some news on a local KC radio station when he acknowledged that Andres Blanco has a shot at winning the starting shortstop job during spring training. After some conversations with Royals officials this week, we're left with the impression that Blanco does indeed have a chance to supplant Angel Berroa.
Blanco could win the job as the Royals' starting shortstop
The Royals believe that Blanco gained some needed strength during the offseason, and they really like the little things that he does well in addition to the defensive upgrade he brings, such as his ability to move runners and lay down bunts. Of course, nothing is set in stone, but it's clear that Berroa at this point is not a lock for the opening day roster.
Perhaps the biggest buzz at camp on Monday was the performance of Rule 5 acquisition Joakim Soria during his start in Sunday's game against the Rockies. Soria was dominant in his outing, tossing four scoreless innings while striking out three batters and allowing only one hit, a bunt single by Willy Taveras. One Royals official we spoke with was particularly impressed with Soria's command, pointing out that among Soria's 38 pitches, 31 were strikes. His changeup was particularly good, and in three outings and 8.0 innings pitched this spring, Soria has yet to walk a batter.
Indeed, it sounds as though Soria is a legitimate candidate for the rotation's final slot, and with a few more outings like Sunday's, he could beat out both Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister, who were the early favorites for the job.