Royals can't answer Phils' Lieber

Royals can't answer Phils' Lieber

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals can't ask for much more from Gil Meche. Every fifth day, the right-hander works deep into the game, gives his team a chance to win and often tosses a quality start.

He just doesn't receive much support.

For the seventh straight start, the Royals' offense did little for their No. 1 pitcher, producing three hits against Jon Lieber in a 4-0 loss to the Phillies on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. It marked the fifth straight defeat for Meche.

The right-hander delivered another fine outing, permitting just four runs in seven innings. He walked just one batter and struck out eight, the most by any Kansas City starter this season. But, like every start in the past five weeks, he didn't win. In his last six starts, the team has scored just two runs when he has been in the game.

"It's not fun," Meche said. "But as a starting pitcher, you are only in control of the defense. You just try to go out there and pitch deep into games, mix up pitches and use all of your pitches."

Meche did just that, pounding the strike zone with his low-to-mid-90s fastball, curve and changeup. He took just 95 pitches, 68 strikes, to cover 21 outs. After throwing mainly offspeed pitches in his last start against the Devil Rays, Meche used all of his pitches effectively Saturday.

"You can't ask for a better ratio of strikes to balls," he said. "My arm felt a lot better, so I kind of stuck with everything. I threw everything. I mixed it up the whole time."

It was the seventh time in 14 starts the right-hander has worked at least seven innings. After Saturday, Meche ranks sixth in the Majors and third in the American League in innings pitched with 91, and his 3.16 season ERA remains among the AL's best.

But, along with the Yankees' Andy Pettitte, Meche (3-6) is one of two pitchers in baseball with more than 70 innings pitched, an ERA under 3.20 and fewer than five victories.

"If this happens all year, I just have to do my job, and that's all you can do," Meche said. "They are busting their butts trying to score runs; we just are not doing it, and there is not much you can say."

In his last seven starts, Meche is 0-5 with a 4.25 ERA, but the Royals haven't won any of those games. He hasn't captured a "W" since May 3 against the Angels.

"He gave us a chance to win," manager Buddy Bell said. "We just really have a tough time scoring for whatever reason when Gil is pitching. I don't know what the run support numbers are when he pitches, but I know they are not good. I have no answers."

Meche has received just 3.46 runs per start, the second-lowest total of any American League starter. Saturday didn't help, as the Royals saw Lieber toss the fifth shutout of his career.

"Gil has been pitching his butt off out there and there is a guy like Lieber who is nibbling the corners and getting us out. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to him," Tony Pena Jr. said.

One night after Kansas City torched the Phillies' pitching staff for eight runs, Lieber struck out 11 hitters -- including six in a row in the first two innings -- and only permitted three baserunners. Two of the hits were singles, including a bunt by Shane Costa, and John Buck's double was the only extra-base hit for the Royals, who didn't have a baserunner reach third base all night.

"I didn't feel like [Lieber] had overpowering stuff," Mark Teahen said. "He was working the corners and getting calls for himself and continued to push that limit. He didn't throw may pitches over the middle of the plate. It was a big zone, and we have to adjust to it and do a better job than we did.

"He didn't really throw anything but his fastball and slider. How we didn't produce many runs, I don't know, but that was the case."

The little offense gave Meche a small margin for error. After scoring a run in the second, the Phillies tacked on three in the fourth on three doubles and a single.

"In the fourth inning, I thought we probably should have come inside a little bit," Meche said. "We didn't, and they were able to get some balls on the ground and some balls in the outfield. That was kind of the story of the fourth inning. Overall, I felt good and felt I had tremendous stuff. I just got beat."

It's been a repetitive story for the Royals' ace.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.