Alex Meyer is 6 feet 9 and possesses the ability to throw 99-mph fastballs. But the 27-year-old Angels right-hander does not have a consistent belief that he belongs in the big leagues.
"Two starts ago, I was feeling sorry for myself," he said. "I was wondering, 'Am I a starter? You can't even go out there and get through the fourth inning.' "
On Sunday afternoon, he could. Meyer (2-1) turned in the best start of his major league career, striking out seven Detroit Tigers and walking two in 6 1/3 innings of a 4-1 victory at Angel Stadium.
He repeatedly called his start a "stepping stone." Already this season, Meyer had strayed from the path. When the Angels promoted him for a spot start last month against Toronto, he cruised through two innings and thought, finally, that he belonged. Then he failed to finish four, walking more men then he struck out.
"After [today's] first two innings, I literally thought about that situation," Meyer said "I was like, 'Look, the last time you were in this ballpark you struggled in the third inning.' So, I just wanted to go out there and keep doing what I was doing: being aggressive in the zone."
Sixty-one of Meyer's 96 pitches were strikes. He pumped fastballs across the strike zone and threw 25 of 37 curveballs for strikes. He did not give up a hit off a curveball.
In fact, he did not give up any hits to 19 consecutive batters between the first and seventh innings. Meyer gave up a double to Ian Kinsler on his second pitch of the game and a run-scoring single to Nick Castellanos on his sixth inning. It was the fourth time in four starts he had surrendered a run in the first inning.
This time, he settled thereafter. He struck out Miguel Cabrera, induced a flyout from Victor Martinez and picked off Castellanos. Only when Martinez doubled with one out in the seventh inning did manager Mike Scioscia summon Blake Parker, meaning Meyer added an inning to his previous career high of 5 1/3 innings.
"Obviously, I don't want to get comfortable with anything," Meyer said. "It's tough up here, it's not easy, and I need to remember that, which I will. I don't want them wondering every fifth day, 'What are we gonna get today? Is he gonna be good? Is he gonna be bad?'
"When I go out there, I want them to know that we have a chance to win today."
Parker struck out Justin Upton looking and gave up a 392-foot drive to J.D. Martinez. He thought it was a home run, so he tucked his glove to his heart and shouted excitedly when Cameron Maybin settled under it four feet short of the wall. David Hernandez handled the eighth and Bud Norris the ninth.
In the Angels' first inning, Mike Trout hit a hanging slider from Justin Verlander (3-3) for his 11th home run and third in a span of six plate appearances. In Trout's next plate appearance, Verlander plunked him on the armguard. In the one after that, Verlander walked him, which stretched his streak of reaching base to eight consecutive plate appearances.
After his teammates produced three consecutive singles to begin the seventh inning, scoring one run, Trout hit a sacrifice fly to left field to drive in a run.
The Angels scored on Danny Espinosa's fourth-inning home run. The second baseman tried to bunt for a hit, fouled off Verlander's first pitch, then swung away and swung hard. It was his first home run since April 13. Maybin walked three times and stole three bases against his former team. Trout swiped two. The Angels had not stolen five bases in a game in more than five years.
The story of the game was Meyer, who remains in pursuit of steady success but, for the first time in a long time, inched closer to it.
"I want the confidence when I'm out there that I belong, that I can pitch, that I can be on the same field as these guys, that I deserve to be," he said. "It's hard, man. I'll always remember what can happen."