Myers to bullpen; Lieber to start
Phillies try to improve relief by moving righty to setup role
WASHINGTON -- It's long been said that Brett Myers possesses the moxie, stuff and mental toughness needed for late-inning relief work.Phillies manager Charlie Manuel announced a move Wednesday that thrusts Myers into the pressure spot and shifts Jon Lieber back to his comfort zone of starting. "Do you think I can get one of those bullpen carts to get me to mound?" Myers asked, eliciting memories of the 1970s when modified golf carts were used to drive a reliever in from the bullpen. "That would be cool." While Myers won't have the benefit of a bullpen ride, the Phillies hope his addition will improve what has been an unreliable relief corps. Myers will set up for closer Tom Gordon, and close on days Gordon isn't available. Lieber, meanwhile, shifts to the rotation, and will start Friday against the Reds. "I'm not going to be selfish," said Myers. "If this is what it takes to get to the playoffs, this is what I'm going to do. If I can be a part of it, that's great."
Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee had been dealing with the issue of having six starters since December, when the team acquired Freddy Garcia. Myers, who started Opening Day, volunteered to shift to relief, but the team intially opted for Lieber. Myers doesn't want to shift back and forth like Ryan Madson did last season, and now Myers will only move back to the rotation if there's a long-term need.Lieber hasn't relieved regularly since 1996 and has maintained he feels he is a better asset in the starting rotation. Manuel said the idea of moving Lieber back to the rotation picked up more steam this week, and he and Dubee discussed it again on the train ride from Philadelphia. They told both players of the decision Wednesday, and Myers pitched a scoreless eighth inning against the Nationals. "[The rationale for the switch] was two-fold," Dubee said. "One, we think Brett will have a bigger impact on our [bullpen]. We'll be able to use him 60 to 70 games, as opposed to 33, 35 [what Lieber would see in long relief]. I think he's got a chance to really help us in a lot of ways. From Jon's standpoint, we feel a more familiar role will help him be the pitcher we think he can be." The Phillies also believe the right-hander is better suited to relieve because of his power arm and four-pitch arsenal. Lieber throws strikes, but is more about routine. Myers, 26, is 0-2 with a 9.39 in three starts, allowing 15 hits and striking out 19 in 15 1/3 innings. Lieber was ineffective in two relief outings, allowing two runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Mets on April 9 and one run in 1 2/3 innings against the Astros on April 13. The 36-year-old has started 314 of his 363 Major League appearances. Disappointed when he was sent to the bullpen in Spring Training, Lieber said he isn't relieved to be starting. "I didn't know this was going to happen," said Lieber, who could reach 60-75 pitches Friday. "I'm not happy because of the situation we're in as a team. If the record was turned around, we wouldn't be in this situation. I still believe Brett is our No. 1 starter. The bottom line is I'm just going to go out there and do the best that I can do, whatever role that is." Lieber conceded that relieving was a bumpy transition, and offered that he had much to prove this season. "I signed here to be a starter," he said. "Some of the things I said in Spring Training, I was upset for a day or two, but those feelings are gone. I was going to do whatever I could do to help this team win. If it was going to be done spending the whole year in the bullpen, so be it." Now that belongs to the always excitable Myers, who is already relishing the chance to factor into more games. "I hope to be," he said. "It's hard to sit on the bench, watching those four games before you have to pitch. To be honest, I always wanted to be in every game and help somehow. I think this way I can."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.