Myers gets start in Triple-A
Former Phils ace takes ball for Lehigh Valley for first time
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Everybody had advice for Brett Myers during his struggles in the first half of 2008."You try one thing," the right-handed starter said, "then everybody gives you different types of things and you try to do it all at once. It just kind of explodes right in your face." It was like a computer's hard drive overheating, Myers said. But on Wednesday night, the Phillies pitcher was able to tune out the critics, brush aside his 3-9 record, 5.84 ERA and Major League-leading 24 home runs allowed and start from square one. Myers made the first of what team officials expect to be about three starts for Triple-A Lehigh Valley after being optioned there Tuesday afternoon. He was credited with a loss after working five innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits, issuing two walks and striking out six as the IronPigs fell to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, 5-3. Despite the loss, a look of relaxation was evident on Myers' face as he laughed and joked with reporters after his outing ended. One of Myers' goals during his stint with the IronPigs is to get the fun back in the game. "It kind of got taken away because I was getting beat up so much," he said. Myers worked smoothly through his first four innings Wednesday night at Coca-Cola Park before running into trouble in the fifth. Through the fourth, Myers allowed one walk and two hits. He retired nine batters in a row between the second and fourth innings. But Myers allowed a leadoff walk in the fifth to JD Closser, who advanced to third on a passed ball and throwing error by IronPigs catcher Jason Jaramillo. Closser scored on a base hit by Greg Porter, who then scored on an infield single by Chris Basak. The Yankees tacked on their third run of the inning on another passed ball. Myers threw 100 pitches, 60 of them for strikes. His fastball hovered around the high 80s and into the low 90s, and he relied on his curveball in deep counts. "He couldn't throw his split for strikes," pitching coach Rod Nichols said. "He tried different things -- kept trying to make adjustments. Because he wasn't able to throw his split for strikes, it kind of got him into deep counts, and the only thing he had in deep counts was his curveball." Assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle watched Myers' start Wednesday night, calling it "solid." He acknowledged that Myers may make "roughly" three or four starts for Lehigh Valley, but stressed that there was no definite timetable for the 27-year-old's return to the Phillies. Myers also said he did not know when he would be back, adding that he expected to earn his way back onto the team. "If I'm not pitching good, I'm not going," Myers said. Myers, the Phils' first-round pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft, won 14 games in 2003, his first full season in the Major Leagues. The right-hander was a mainstay of the Phils' rotation each year thereafter until the beginning of the 2007 season, when he was moved to the bullpen. The team pointed to Myers' grit and mental toughness as evidence that he would thrive in the bullpen, and he did not disappoint. He saved 21 games in 2007, earning a 2.87 ERA in the process. The acquisition of closer Brad Lidge in the offseason, however, meant Myers would begin 2008 back in the rotation. Manager Charlie Manuel pegged Myers as the team's Opening Day starter, and he did well in his first four starts, recording a 2-1 record with a 3.96 ERA. His season began to unravel, however, when he earned one victory in a span of 13 starts from April 22 through June 27. During that time, Myers posted a 1-8 record and his ERA ballooned to 5.84. He has allowed 24 home runs this year, the most in the Major Leagues. Myers credits the success he had as a starter earlier in his career to having a plan each time he took the mound and being able to recognize details, such as hitters' swings. Pitching out of the bullpen last year, Myers said, may have diminished those abilities.
"I didn't have to watch what was going on with hitters," he said. "I was just like, 'Here's my stuff. Hit it.' As a starter, you have to prepare."This became evident to Myers on Wednesday when he was talking with Nichols, who pointed out that one Scranton/Wilkes-Barre hitter had a slow bat. "I couldn't see it," Myers said. "I couldn't tell. In the past, when I was doing well as a starter, I could see pretty much everything that was going on." Nichols was the pitching coach for the Piedmont Boll Weevils of the South Atlantic League in 2000 when Myers pitched there. "I kind of saw him getting some swagger as the game went on," Nichols said. "I thought he got more comfortable out there."
When the Phillies optioned Myers here on Tuesday afternoon, they became the last team in the Majors to make a roster move regarding their pitching staff. They are the only team in the Major Leagues to rely on only five starters this season.But that will change soon. Cole Hamels will start in place of Myers Thursday in Atlanta. The team has not decided who will start in Myers' place during his stint with the IronPigs, Arbuckle said. Arbuckle pointed to Myers' past success as a sign that the right-hander is capable of helping the Phillies' rotation this season. "We're going to move forward," Arbuckle said, "and try to get him on track as a starting pitcher. We need him in our rotation."
Kevin Horan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.