Pitching staff a bright spot for Royals

Rotation a bright spot for Royals

KANSAS CITY -- On a club where runs do not come easily, it's imperative to have the pitchers hold the opponents down to a dull roar.

That's pretty much been the case this season for the Royals, and the pitching rotation, in particular, is emerging as a solid unit. Continuing that trend is essential to the club's success in the second half.

"I'm encouraged with what we're doing," general manager Dayton Moore said. "Our starting pitching has remained consistent -- we've got the same guys out there every fifth day. They're battling through ups and downs. Our closer has been very good, exceptional."

True enough.

Starters Gil Meche, Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke have been strong most of the season. Rookie Luke Hochevar is finding his way nicely. Kyle Davies has shown promise, especially early on after his recall.

"I think always in this rotation there's going to be somebody that steps up and has a great year and we all kind of shuffle in behind that guy -- Gil had it last year, and I think Zack is having it right now," Bannister said.

Greinke indeed has been tough in almost every start and should have had more victories. He's certainly pitched well enough, although, after 19 starts, he was a modest 7-5, despite his 3.48 ERA.

Bannister is eyeing 200 innings pitched.

"I know Gil did it for the first time last year and I don't believe Zack has done it yet and I haven't done it yet," Bannister said. "I think it's a good goal for all of us to have that kind of production for the staff."

There are other numbers to consider, too.

"I know that Paul Byrd won 17 in '02, I believe, and I remember reading at the beginning of the year where it's been a while since a pitcher won 13 games," Bannister noted. "And I think we've done a good job of pitching deep into games and getting more decisions this year. It's been fun, because we're all very competitive and we've pushed ourselves."

Since Byrd's 17 wins, no Royals pitcher has won more than the 12 that Bannister put up last year.

Manager Trey Hillman has kept his starters going longer in games, knowing such an approach makes things easier on the relievers. And the bullpen, notably Ron Mahay and Ramon Ramirez, has been effective in getting the ball to near-perfect closer Joakim Soria.

The 'pen should be strengthened in the second half when Leo Nunez, superb as a setup man earlier, returns from an injury.

4/26, KC 2, TOR 1 -- Pena saves the game
Tony Pena dove in the hole between third and short, making a back-handed stop. On his knees, he rifled a throw to first base.
Highlights: Watch
6/23, KC 8, COL 4 -- Gordon's quick-thinking double play
Alex Gordon caught Chris Iannetta leading off third base and had enough time to get Willy Taveras at first for the DP.
Highlights: Watch
6/27, KC 7, STL 2 -- Teahen's leaping catch
Mark Teahen ran to the wall, timed his jump at exactly the right moment and stole a potential homer from Albert Pujols.
Highlights: Watch
6/29, STL 9, KC 6 -- DeJesus plows over LaRue
David DeJesus lowered his shoulder and barrelled into catcher Jason LaRue. DeJesus had to leave with a bruised rib.
Highlights: Watch
6/30, KC 6, BAL 5 -- Olivo's late homer
With two outs and two strikes against him in the bottom of the ninth, Miguel Olivo kept the game alive with a homer to left.
Highlights: Watch

With the Royals at or near the bottom of the American League in runs scored all season, the pitchers have had to do more than hold their own. The offense, however, has perked up recently.

"We definitely struggled offensively early on, but once guys kind of settled in, it got better," Mark Teahen said. "I think you can look at [Jose] Guillen as the best example. Once he got going, it was contagious and the offense has been what we expected it to be."

It was not expected to be a power club, by any stretch. No, the club had to work to manufacture runs with a liberal use of small ball.

"You're not going to see many home runs, I'm sorry," Mark Grudzielanek said. "We play in the biggest park in the league. It's tough to hit balls out of there. You look at all the home run leaders and where they play, it's all band boxes. It's absolutely a joke."

Hillman was sensing a changing attitude as the Royals approached the All-Star break.

"I think that we're more confident and there's less panic and less anxiety about our chances of coming back when we get down," he said.

What matters most is the starting pitchers staying close and giving the club a chance to win and move up in the AL Central.

"I think if we keep playing the way we've been playing, we're going to make a couple good runs at this," Bannister said. "I think we're entirely capable of coming away with this. It's not entirely that unheard of."

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.