John Clay: Ex-Cat Alex Meyer back in town pitching against Legends

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistMay 11, 2012 

Across town, at Cliff Hagan Stadium, his former team was battling for first place in the SEC.

Over on North Broadway, however, former Kentucky star pitcher Alex Meyer was trying to impress the hometown folks in a different uniform and different setting.

A first-round draft pick of the Washington Nationals, the 23rd pick overall, the 22-year-old Meyer was at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, making his seventh start for the Class A Hagerstown Suns against the hometown Lexington Legends.

The Greensboro, Indiana native pitched six innings, allowing eight hits and three runs in getting a no-decision.

He pitched five scoreless innings, giving up five hits, before allowing three hits and three runs in the sixth in what turned out to be a 4-3 Lexington win.

"It wasn't crystal-clear perfect," Meyer said of his performance. "I thought I put us in a good position to win the game, but it could have been a little bit better if I'd pitched a little bit smarter at certain points."

It's a whole new ballgame for Meyer, the 6-foot-9 right-hander who last summer became the second-highest MLB draft pick in UK history, behind only Chad Green, drafted No. 8 overall by Milwaukee in 1996.

Upon being drafted by the Nats — Meyer reportedly signed a $2 million contract — Baseball America labeled Meyer the third-best prospect in the Nationals' farm system. It also judged his slider to be the best in the organization.

He carried a 2-3 record with a 4.28 ERA into Lexington with 33 strikeouts and 12 walks in 271⁄3 innings. His last start, May 5 against Augusta, Meyer pitched a season-high seven innings, giving up just four hits and one run.

An announced crowd of 6,656 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark heard Meyer introduced as "University of Kentucky graduate Alex Meyer."

"It was great being back in Lexington where I went to school," Meyer said. "Not too many people get to go back to the town where they played in for school."

He breezed through the first three innings, giving up a harmless single in the second. After Lexington loaded the bases with one out in the fifth, Meyer coaxed a 1-2-3 double play to escape trouble.

He was not so lucky in the sixth. Brandon Meredith singled in Matt Duffy for the first Lexington run. An out later, Roberto Pena doubled in Drew Muren and Meredith to make it 3-0 Legends.

Ah, but six innings, three runs allowed, is a quality start.

"It's a big difference from college ball," said Meyer later. "There are just small pieces that you've got to learn and do on your own. Not that I'm struggling or anything, it's just an adjustment period that you've got to get used to."

For example, the Nationals want Meyer to work controlling his fastball a little better.

"Once I get that, I feel like things will be moving a little bit better," he said. "That's why you see me throwing so many more fastballs right now. I'm comfortable with my off-speed pitches. It's just a matter of hitting both sides of the plate with my fastball and keeping it down."

His old teammates are doing much better, Gary Henderson's club improving to 16-9 in the SEC with a 4-2 win over Alabama on Friday.

"It's a great time to be a fan of those guys and I'm more than happy for them," Meyer said. "All three years I was there, it didn't necessarily go the way we wanted it to, but we had the talent every single year. We'd go out and compete but then just fold at times and do things that weren't baseball smart.

"This year, they've got a good group of veterans and leadership. They're playing well. They deserve it."

The Nationals aren't doing too badly, either, atop the NL East. Baseball experts say the former doormats are assembling an impressive core of young talent.

"The Nationals have a commitment to win right now," Meyer said. "They want to win now and they want to win in the future. Especially for my first year, it's an exciting time to be a part of the organization."

John Clay: 859-231-3226. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv.

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