How deep do the Phillies’ problems run?


Ryho CHICAGO —
At this stage it’s pretty easy being negative. Considering that the Phillies have lost six of eight games to NL Central doormats Pittsburgh and Chicago, and struggled even to score runs off the Cubs at Wrigley Field, yeah, it’s easy to be down on the Phillies.

There’s a lot to be disappointed about, too. Cliff Lee is gone, traded for prospects that may not be able to help the club for the length of the next contract the All-Star lefty signs. Plus, because general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. thought the Phils were better off without Brett Myers, a pitcher who is putting together the best year of his career with the Astros, the Phillies’ rotation is left with Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and a bunch of guys.

Sometimes those guys pitch well, but most of the time they don’t.

Indeed it was a tough winter for Amaro. Juan Castro, his addition to the bench, was given his unconditional waivers last Saturday. That was because Placido Polanco, the splashy free-agent signee of the off-season, had returned from a stint on the disabled list.

Moreover, Amaro called lefty reliever Scott Eyre’s bluff… and lost. Eyre claimed he would retire rather than play for a team other than the Phillies and kept his word. Future Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez was not offered a contract following a postseason in which he started 30 percent of the team’s final 10 games, including two of the World Series games at Yankee Stadium, and now also appears to be retired.

Both pitchers wanted to play for the Phillies, and certainly would have contributed to the team. But for whatever reason their help wasn’t needed. Hell, even Chan Ho Park took a smaller contract than the one offered to him by the Phillies in order to pitch for the Yankees.

Just to pile on, last-year’s free-agent signee Raul Ibanez has struggled after a winter where he had surgery for a sports hernia, and Shane Victorino seems unable to get a hit unless it’s a homer or extra-base knock. Meanwhile, free-agent to be Jayson Werth has turned surly and his attitude questioned as his batting average plummets and his strikeout totals pile up. In four games at Wrigley Field last weekend, Werth struck out nine times—the first five of those came in the first eight plate appearances where he didn’t even move the bat from his shoulder.

“Swing,” manager Charlie Manuel said exacerbatedly after a game in which the team racked up eight strikeouts looking as frozen as an angry possum cowering under the back tires of a car on a pitch-black night.

Meanwhile, Brad Lidge hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t exactly inspired confidence, either. Ryan Madson’s season has been better known for his ability to kick chairs like a wacko David Akers more than setting up games. Off-season addition Jose Contreras has been inconsistent, while countryman Danys Baez has turned into another one of Amaro’s follies.

Quick, does someone know the opposite of the word, architect?

The most frustrating part of a season that has the Phillies fighting to make up 5½ games in the suddenly competitive NL East, and has driven Manuel crazier than anything has been the offense’s inability to score runs consistently. Post-game meetings with the manager are like summer reruns where the former hitting coach attempts to explain away the dearth of hitting and energy before finally giving up and falling back on his old standbys.

“You guys are stat guys… take a look. If you can't see where the problem is at,” Manuel said after Sunday night’s loss where the ace Halladay gave up six runs in six innings while a lefty named Tom Gorzelanny shut them down. “I don't have to sit here and say anything about anybody. You should be able to read the stats and read what happens and watch the game every night. I don't have to sit here and say anything negative about anybody. It speaks for itself. Nobody can take away your performance. No one can hide it, though, neither.”

The issue for Manuel is inconsistency. Lots of inconsistency.

“It’s the same thing every night,” he said.

Manuel is wrong about the inconsistency. The thing is the only way his team has been consistent this season is with its maddening and inexplicable inconsistency. For a manager who prides himself on his knowledge of hitting with intricate insight on nearly every hitter he’s ever seen, the lack of production from his hitters is especially maddening. In fact, sometimes it seems as if Manuel prefers the teams he coached in Cleveland even though they never won the World Series.

Hitting solves a lot of problems, goes Manuel’s logic. When a team hits, he says, mistakes don’t stand out and the pitching looks better if it’s not really the case.

“Everything looks good when you hit,” Manuel said.

In the interest in fairness, however, Amaro was able to made deals to get three different Cy Young Award winners on his team (even though he dumped two of them). He also put deals in place for Hamels and Howard. With Howard it appears as if the slugger will be with the Phillies for the rest of his career. Halladay likely will finish his career with the Phillies, too. Those players are a very strong cornerstone.

However, Lee is gone, presumably over money though we’ve never received a straight or satisfying answer as to why the pitcher was traded. That’s especially maddening considering Amaro threw good money at bad contracts for Baez and Castro, as well as a three-year deal for starter Joe Blanton at $8 million per season.

Moreover, the team will be saddled with $23 million owed to Lidge and Ibanez in 2011, with extensions for Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson and Hamels.

The bottom line is that the Phillies still need pitching and a bat or two in the outfield. Sure, Domonic Brown is on the way, but that still doesn’t answer the pitcher issue…

Or why two guys like Lee or Myers were allowed to walk away.

The winter of the Phillies’ discontent


Brett_myers CHICAGO —
Charlie Manuel was quick to tell his National League All-Stars that someone in the victorious clubhouse following the 3-1 victory on Tuesday night was going to enjoy playing Game 1 of the World Series this October in their home ballpark.

But Manuel was quick to point out that he wasn’t just talking to the players from the Braves, Reds, Padres or Cardinals, but looking straight at Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay from his club when he said that. See, Manuel very much enjoyed getting to the World Series the past couple of years and very much wants to pad his resume with a few more trips to the Fall Classic, too.

“Keep strivin’,” Manuel said. “I want to keep going.”

The want-to and the able-to are always so fickle, though. Absolutely, a third trip in a row to the World Series just might cinch Manuel’s legacy in Philadelphia — that is if he hasn’t done that already with a title in 2008 and a return trip to the big dance in ’09. No, the Phillies never have had a manager go to the World Series twice and only one other guy, Danny Ozark, went to the playoffs three times like Manuel.

Still, to hear it in the manager’s voice and to see the wear on his face following the 12-6 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Thursday night, the Phillies could be headed for a light schedule in October for a change. Indeed, there is trouble lurking in the not-so distance horizon for the Phillies and things could spin out of control quickly if they aren’t careful. See, this season Manuel’s crew is much more flawed than in seasons past. The inability to generate offense without a home run has caused some trouble, while injuries have forced guys like Wilson Valdez and Greg Dobbs into key roles.

Certainly games missed by Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz have hurt the team, but definitely not more than the pitching has hurt.

“We have holes,” Manuel pointed out after the latest loss that set the team to 5½ games off the pace in the NL East and two back for sixth place in the wild-card chase.

Manuel knows as well as anyone about the team’s shortcomings, but he only scratches the surface. Sure, the Phillies’ starters had an ERA of 3.95 and led the league in complete games, innings pitches and strikeouts-to-walks ratio, but those numbers lie.

Bald-faced lie.

What those numbers don’t reveal is that the Phillies desperately need pitching because they are all skewed by Halladay’s presence. Even the relief pitchers have fared well with Halladay’s addition to the staff because the corps of bullpen men have worked the fewest innings in the majors. Needless to say it helps that Halladay can gobble up nearly eight innings every time out.

So what happens when Halladay is taken out of the equation? Do you really want to know?

Try this out: with Halladay the Phils went into Thursday’s second-half opener with the sixth best starter’s ERA in the National League and sixth-best mark overall. But take Halladay’s 2.19 ERA out of the mix and overall ERA jumps to 4.43 while the starters’ sky rockets to 4.54.

In other words, the Phillies need some pitching… before it’s too late.

Now there are two ways to handle this—three if complaining about the Cliff Lee trade is an option, because let’s face it… it’s was a really bad move and could be the reason why the team has been so unhinged this season. No, trading Lee wasn’t the worst possible trade general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. could have made, but it’s up there.

Regardless, one way to make a charge is simply for the rotation to dial it up. Sure, Cole Hamels has been good this year, but he is also prone to inconsistency like the rest of the staff. If the Phillies are going to get back into the playoffs for a fourth straight season, Hamels is going to have to pitch like it’s 2008 or if he magically morphs into Cliff Lee.

Consistency is the key.

“Is it good enough? I don’t know. I mean we gotta pitch,” Manuel said. “If we pitch consistently, put it like this, for where we want to go we have to play high .500 [winning percentage] or low .600 the rest of the way. That means ours pitching has to be very consistent.”

Another way for the staff to gain consistency is to add a missing piece. Nope, unless Amaro has a time machine, either DeLorean model or hot tub, Lee is gone forever. It also doesn’t appear as if Pedro Martinez will be ready to help the club the rest of the way this season, nor does it seem likely that they can get a stud like Roy Oswalt since the y have a dearth of bargaining chips. Trading Jayson Werth clearly has become a very wise move because it seems apparent that he will not be re-signed, but what kind of value does he have?

A player like Werth would be desirable on a club making a push for the playoffs, but even there he isn’t very attractive since he likely could only be a two month rental. Besides, if a team is in contention, it is not going to deal away valuable pitching talent for Werth. That wouldn’t make sense.

Then again, trading away Lee and re-signing Joe Blanton for three years after he was shopped during the winter meetings only for the Phils’ to learn there wasn’t any interest. That’s no knock on Blanton, but really… why sign him for three years and $24 million when there is a chance to give Lee an extension?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Speaking of not making much sense, the decision to allow Brett Myers to walk away seems to have come back and bit the team on the rear, too. Making matters worse is the fact that Myers is exactly the type of pitcher the Phillies need right now. In fact, Myers is quietly putting together the best season of his career with the Astros, checking in with a 3.41 ERA in 18 starts and 121 innings.

Sure, there was plenty of baggage that came with having Myers on the team, but there was no shortage of enthusiasm. These days the only way some of the players on the club express themselves is by screaming expletives at a father and his son sitting in the right-field seats.

Maybe we can rephrase the old baseball adage by pointing out that a team can’t win a pennant in December, but this one just might have lost one last winter.

Playing catch up

Fred While catching up with the 76ers and learning as much as possible about Sam Dalembert and the crisis in Haiti, we kind of put the silliness on the back burner for a couple of days. Undoubtedly there have been quite a few fun things happening around these parts, starting with…

The Philadelphia Union traded for Fred with D.C. United a day before their first foray in the MLS draft. In case you are looking at that last sentence and thinking there was a typo or inadvertent omission of Fred’s surname, guess again.

The Union got Fred. You know… Fred.

Actually, Fred is a Brazilian soccer player and just to further perplex American sports fans, guys like Fred or Ronaldo or Ronaldinho operate with just a single name. You know, just to be wacky or something. However, I have been informed that the penalty for a yellow card against Fred is that he will be forced to use a last name.

May I suggest, Fred X?
 
Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva is the name Fred’s mama gave him and he is not to be confused with Frederico Chaves Guedes—he goes by Frederico, which is also a good name for anyone contemplating a career as a samba dancer.

In the meantime, the first player the Philadelphia Union acquired within 24 hours of the draft is a guy with the handle, Fred. More notable is that after the Union selected Danny Mwanga from Oregon St. with the first pick of the 2010 MLS Draft, the team had two players with a combined three names.

Hey, it’s quality not quantity.

Fred and Danny Mwanga and the rest of the Union will kick-off their inaugural season in Seattle on March 25 before their home debut on April 10 at the Linc. There still is no date set for the first game at the soon-to-be constructed Union Field at Chester, the team’s new stadium located at the foot of the Commodore Barry Bridge.

So go get some tickets and see Fred. You know… Fred.

Brett_myers Stick it?
Brett Myers was officially introduced as a member of the Houston Astros this week, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with general manager Ed Wade’s taste in players. The interesting aspect about Myers’ departure from the Phillies after eight seasons is that he is exactly the type of pitcher current GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is shopping for.

Actually, Myers could be a nice fit as a backend reliever or starter for the Phillies. Better yet, based on the deal he got from Wade, he would have fit into the price structure, too.

So for a pitcher (a pitcher!) to be given the Heisman so wantonly by Amaro, it seems clear that Myers’ act simply wore out everyone.

If you’re looking for Myers to read between the lines or understand the not-so-subtle kick to the curb, guess again. Instead, he sought to inflame the situation during his introductory press conference in Houston.

“I wanted to go back to Philadelphia, but they didn't show an interest, they had other obligations, which is fine with me,” Myers said before promising to “stick it” to the Phillies.

Certainly that last element is quite interesting because Amaro and the Phillies were quick to announce their intentions not to re-sign Myers. In fact, the decision came very quickly after the World Series ended in early November.

Moreover, based on how Myers pitched throughout most of his tenure with the Phillies, some would argue that he already has “stuck it” to them. It’s kind of hard to see that act continuing now that he’s gone.

Trolling the lobby

Lobby INDIANAPOLIS—Just did my first serious troll through the veritable Star Trek convention that is the Baseball Winter Meetings, and to describe the scene by paraphrasing a line from Bill Hader in the marvelous opening scene in the epic film, Pineapple Express, "One: lots of dudes… "

Truth be told, I've quoted that movie twice already this morning by using the always versatile phrase, "What happened to your eye?"

Regardless, the first trip proved to be quite fruitful when the rumor du jour involved ex-Phillie Pat Burrell. According to the reports, tweets and scuttlebutt, Burrell was said to be involved in a threeway deal.

Yeah, too easy…

The report was the Rays were going to trade Burrell to the Cubs for Milton Bradley and then the Cubs would turnaround and send Pat The Bat to the Mets.

Wouldn't it be awesome to see Burrell 18 times a season in a Mets' uniform? Just think about how much fun that would be aside from it underscoring the mercenary nature of baseball. Ah, but to be a wet blanket — according to the terms of his contract, the Rays would have to pay Burrell cash if he were to be traded. Sure, the Rays got to the World Series in 2008 and are no longer the doormats of the American League, but that doesn't mean they are so flush with cash that they can go around making trades and signing free agents.

Leslie Gudel sent a message to Burrell on whether or not he heard about the rumor and (not surprisingly) he had not. Burrell wasn't known to follow the hot stove back when he was playing for the Phillies and he, said back then, he didn't even own a computer. Chances are he hasn't changed his media diet all that much in the year since he has been gone.

But when asked by Tim Brown of Yahoo!, a Rays' representative dropped the ol', "That's news to us," line on Brown.

In other words, the Burrell to the Cubs and Mets rumor was too good to be true.

Another good one had ex-Phillie Brett Myers headed to either Houston or Texas…

Burrell_rays Yes, there is a joke somewhere in there, too. Go ahead and make up your own about Brett Myers, Texas, his penchant for going to the gun range, Ed Wade, and, of course, Brett Myers in the state of Texas.

Meanwhile, the Phillies didn't appear to be too busy on the first day of the Winter Meetings here at the Downtown Marriott. At one point, key front-office types Charley Kerfeld, Gordon Lakey and Howie Freiling were all in the lobby mingling with the scribes. While this was going on, Ruben Amaro Jr. and a bunch of the rest of the Phillies' brass were standing along the railing overlooking the lobby where they were undoubtedly making wise cracks about the show down below.

Like shooting fish in a barrel.

For what it's worth, the Phillies are said not to be willing to part with the money in order to get Brandon Lyon. Last season for the Tigers, the reliever earned $4.25 million and is in line for a raise this year. Still, he is the type of player the Phillies are looking to add before spring training.

Perhaps this is the off-season where the economy of the U.S. really comes into play.

Hot time in the old town with the hot corner

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.com Without so much as a flick of an eyelash, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. set the Phillies’ offseason into full swing. He didn’t have to issue a statement, hold a press conference or even sign anything.

Hell, he didn’t even have to answer any questions because that was already handled for the GM by other people. There was a quick e-mail sent out to reporters regarding Pedro Feliz’s option, and Brett Myers told people that Amaro told him that he oughta just go be a free agent.

So now Amaro needs to find a third baseman to replace the sure-handed Feliz, and a knucklehead to replace Myers. And of course, as written three times on this space already (this is the fourth), the Phillies hope to make a trade for Roy Halladay.

Whispers from Phillies sources is the deal for Halladay could include Cole Hamels.

That still leaves the team down a knucklehead with Myers’ departure. Perhaps they’ll go knucklehead-less?

Anyway, as Amaro hangs out at the O’Hare Hilton in Chicago—the very same hotel O.J. Simpson checked into after flying from L.A. the night of the murders—his off-season plans were laid out in appropriate order:

* Third baseman
* Relief pitcher(s)
* The bench

And if there is enough time or money left over maybe they can find a clubhouse knucklehead to replace Myers. But you know… only if they have time.

The search for a new third baseman is an interesting proposition for Amaro. After all, this is one of those rare cases in which it will be difficult for the GM to mess it up since there are plenty of quality free-agent third basemen. Certainly Chone Figgins of the Angels is the cream of the crop, but the Angels want him back and his asking price is reported to be 5-years for $50 million.

Five years for a guy about to turn 32 might be a bit much, but Figgins could be a valuable piece for the Phillies. No, he’s not much of a slugger, but he would be the perfect leadoff hitter in this lineup. Last year he walked 101 times and has an on-base percentage over .385 in the past three seasons.

Compared to Jimmy Rollins, well… there is not much of a comparison. Figgins’ OBP in 2009 was exactly 100-points higher than Rollins’. Plus, as a leadoff hitter Figgins sees 4.21 pitches per plate appearance. On the Phillies, only Jayson Werth saw more pitches (4.51) and he led the Majors.

Figgins also steals more bases than any player for the Phillies, and though he led the league in caught stealing in two out of the past three years, a spring with Davey Lopes could turn him into a 70-stolen base threat.

Figgins would be a perfect table setter for the Phillies’ sluggers and fits in nicely in that he strikes out a lot, too (his BAbip was .356). However, the addition of Figgins would probably rock the boat a little too much because Rollins, for some reason, is the leadoff hitter for life.

He might be the worst leadoff hitter in the big leagues, but Rollins’ is the leadoff hitter nonetheless. Egos are a helluva thing, especially within the space of a baseball clubhouse. Though the Phillies might be better served with Rollins hitting further down in the lineup—like second, seventh—manager Charlie Manuel has bought the idea that he has one leadoff hitter and one only.

image from fingerfood.files.wordpress.comYes, Figgins is the best option for the Phillies. That’s especially the case considering his fielding, statistically speaking, was just as good as Feliz.

Other names that will be whispered into the wind like so many dandelion spores are Adrian Beltre and Mark DeRosa. The fact is, the Phillies have had the hots for both players for years and put the moves on DeRosa during the winter meetings last December. However, neither player is as consistent as Figgins.

Worse, Beltre and DeRosa have had their share of injuries. DeRosa, the former Penn quarterback, has never played more than 149 games in a season (he’s done it twice) and will be 35 in February. Plus, he had surgery on his wrist last week.

Beltre is 13 years into his career and is coming off his worst season. The Phillies can definitely do better.

And certainly they should do better. With the attendance numbers they posted (102 percent capacity for 89 games in the regular- and post-seasons), money isn’t an issue. Plus, with the ever fickle window of opportunity just an injury away from closing, the Phillies aren’t risking all that much by making a move on Figgins (or Halladay, a bullpen piece, and a knucklehead).

Besides, third base is one of those marquee positions for the Phillies, like left field for the Red Sox or center field for the Yankees. Dick Allen played third base. So too did Mike Schmidt and Scott Rolen. They seemed to be in a good spot with Placido Polanco at third, but needed guys like David Bell, Tomas Perez, Tyler Houston, Shawn Wooten, Ramon Martinez, Jose Hernandez, Alex Gonzalez, Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, Greg Dobbs, Miguel Cairo, Eric Bruntlett and Feliz to hold down the hot corner.

Hey, you had us at Polanco.

NLCS Game 1: Setting up the roster

Brett myers LOS ANGELES—Before I mention anything else, I have to give a big thank you to Mr. Tug Haines for the Google Wave invite. I don’t know what it is or what it does, but as a Google geek, I know I wanted it and thankfully Tug was kind of enough to send me the invite.

So yes, that was very nice of him.

On another note, Tug along with Mike Meech do a bang up job putting together the web site, The Fightins. Along with Zolecki over there at MLB.com, and Gonz at that newspaper, there aren’t too many mainstream media types that give the proper credit to so-called blog sites. When done well like The Fightins, The 700 Level, Balls, Sticks & Stuff, and many others with a Philly bent, the sites are a blast to read. And aren’t sports supposed to be fun?

Again, thanks to Mr. Tug and here’s hoping those guys keep up the good work because it’s a fun read. Check them out.

As far as the news here goes, Brett Myers is here but was not seen on the field during BP. Then again, I wasn’t looking for him. Charlie said when he broke the news to him that he would not be on the NLCS roster, Myers shrugged and then got up and walked out of the room.

People who have talked to him says he’s “ticked.”

I’m not sure what he has to be ticked about since he’s not very good right now. I’ve trotted this out plenty of times in the past so I’ll do it again here—scouts say his stuff is garbage. He has no pitches and lousy mechanics.

“I look at Brett, and it's almost like spring training for him. He had a very serious injury, came back, and maybe it was too early, I don't know,” Charlie said. “But then he hurt his shoulder, and his shoulder was like a second degree injury. And then I've noticed him, and the fact that he's not sharp, but also what we kind of the things that we wanted to do, it's another way of him going down in the bullpen and working and everything and doing some — working on his pitching and throwing and stuff and see where he's at.”

Ruben Amaro chalked the decision up to simple baseball business and that Myers didn’t get a chance to throw too much upon returning from hip surgery.

“We think we’re a better team with 11 pitchers,” Amaro said. “We’re trying to win baseball games with the best 25 guys we have.”

Obviously that best 25 did not include Myers.

Meanwhile, Pedro is all set to go in Game 2. It will be interesting to see how long he can go and what kind of stuff he has since he has thrown just seven innings in real games since that 130-pitch game against the Mets in mid-September.

“There’s a risk, of course. But I’d rather take a risk on a guy like Pedro who has experience,” Amaro said.

Yeah, what the hell… it’s Pedro. The worst thing that can come out of it is good times.

Who needs a nap?

I'm tired,
Tired of playing the game
Ain't it a crying shame
I'm so tired

– Lili Von Shtupp

image from fingerfood.typepad.com MILWAUKEE — This is the time in the baseball season where the days grow longer, the nights shorter and the turnaround so much more quicker. Not only is there no rest for the weary, but also the only recourse is adrenaline.

Yes, we’re beat, but dammit we’re having fun, too. No one wants to go home because the action starts in October. Sure, we’re tired. All of us. The players, the coaches, the front-office types and, of course, the scribes. We’re beaten down to a bloody pulp like an aimless old boxer who just got his ass waffled. But really, what better place to be?

October baseball is why the players play and why the writers write.

It’s also why the scouts scout. For those who make the rounds from city to city with the Phillies, there are a few more regular faces on the scene. Like writers, scouts travel in packs even though they work for competing organizations. Call it safety in numbers.

But only one of these packs of people has any true bearing on the outcome of games and that ain’t the scribes. In fact, advance scouting offers so much insight into the opposition that birddoggers from all of the Phillies’ potential opponents have been at the ballpark for every game for the past two months. Shoot, even a scout from the Twins has been watching the Phillies in the outside chance that they meet in the World Series.

Most notable though are the guys from the Dodgers, Cardinals, Rockies and Braves, who happens to be ex-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. Aside from Fregosi, the scouts from the National League-playoff clubs and a handful of American League teams have been out every day.

There are a couple of things to know about scouts. One is they watch the game differently than even the most astute fan or writer. They look for tendencies, nuanced little tells and tips that might not happen but one time in 100 pitches, but that one time could be the difference. Plus, the scouts look at the game objectively. Unlike coaches or the manager, the scouts are looking for what their team can exploit. They zero in on weaknesses like a big schoolyard bully.

At the core, though, the scout is an overt spy. As such, they trade in information and every once in a while they leak like a sieve. Because writers have access and insight that the scouts do not, there is often a quid pro quo between scout and scribe.

Wanna know what a few of them think about the Phillies’ chances in the playoffs? Well, it’s not really that much of a surprise.

“They’re going to have to ride their starting pitchers for as long as they can,” a scout said, noting that the Phillies’ bullpen is a mess.

This will be an interesting week for watchers of the Phillies because reliever J.C. Romero has been activated from the disabled list on Monday, Brett Myers could return to action this week along with Chan Ho Park, and Scott Eyre has not pitched in a game since Sept. 7. Before that, the lefty specialist had pitched just once since Aug. 16.

Then there is the issue of the ninth inning where it appears as if Brad Lidge will not see any significant action aside from mop-up duty to restore his fastball command and confidence. Ryan Madson pitched spectacularly in the ninth inning to save Sunday’s win at Miller Park, but if the lanky righty takes over the ninth, who gets the eighth?

Tyler Walker? Sergio Escalona? One of the guys trying to cram in some work before the playoffs begin? Not Brett Myers, says one scout.

“His stuff was pretty unimpressive in the few games he pitched when he got back [from hip surgery],” a scout said.

The biggest issue just might be the starting rotation, particularly Cliff Lee who is 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA in his last six starts. One of those six starts was a complete game shutout, which reveals how poor those numbers were in the other five outings. Meanwhile, Pedro Martinez missed his last start with a strained neck and J.A. Happ very well could be the answer in the bullpen.

Still, Lee and that rough patch with just one more start to go in the season is also something for folks to pay attention to.

“There are a lot of innings for those starters. Some of them look pretty tired,” another scout said. “But then again, there are a lot of guys out there that look tired.”

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Jayson Werth, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley are a few names that pop to mind when talking about tiredness. Better yet, if a scout from another team notices how tired the Phillies look, Manuel ought to, as well.

Right?

Well, yes and no. Sure, Manuel acknowledges that a couple of his guys are a little burnt, but it’s too late to do anything about it. With a four-game lead with six to go, Manuel can’t give Werth a day off even though he is 3 for his last 30 with just three singles and 14 strikeouts.

The tiredness is even more noticeable in Utley, who, like Werth, is struggling at the plate. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Astros, Utley is 3for his last 27 and batting .222 in September.

Manuel says his all-star second baseman is in need of a day off, but he won’t get one until the NL East is sewn up.

“I think he’s dragging some, but he’s trying really hard. When we don’t play well he takes it real hard and he tries to do too much,” Manuel said. “But at the same time he can come out of it. He can handle it.”

Can he, or is that just wishful thinking by Manuel? The old adage is the regulars get to take a break after the division is won, but even then the Phillies will have home-field advantage on the line. They don’t want to go to Los Angeles for the first round, do they?

Heck, the way the Braves are playing the Phils might have to go to St. Louis.

“A day of rest would be nice. Of course, we could have been getting plenty of days of rest. But things don't always go the way we want,” Rollins said about the Phillies’ inability to close out the division in a timely manner. “What happens is that at times you have lapses in concentration. You think you have the pitcher right where you wanted him and then, wham! You miss that one pitch.”

Wham!

Everything is cream cheese…

There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.

— Coach Finstock from the major motion picture, Teen Wolf

myersI’m not into absolutes. After all, the grey areas are much more interesting. However, there are a few pearls of wisdom – little guidelines if you will – that I undoubtedly will pass along to my sons.

The easy place to start is with Coach Finstock’s words to Michael J. Fox’s character, Scotty, the so-named “Teen Wolf.” Sleep, as we all have learned, is so much more important to one’s health than food. And I’ll wager that it’s probably a really good idea not to play cards with a guy who has the first name of a city as well as a woman with a tattoo of a dagger.

Getting involved? Hey, to each their own.

But it goes without saying that those people generally are much more comfortable with pain than the average dude on the street. Hey, we all know that parents are giving kids goofy names these days, and we also know that self-mutilation is trendy as all get out. But there is nothing about a man named Blaine or a chick with a tramp stamp that strikes fear into my heart. A insomniac named Frisco and a woman with a homemade tattoo of a knife made with a penknife, well, I steer clear.

It just makes sense.

I’ve taken those rules from Coach Finstock and added a few to them over the years. Hang around with pro athletes for a decade in Philadelphia and eyes open a bit. It’s not quite like being in a war, but it’s kind of like being on the fringes of a really big fight. Sometimes, by accident, a stray punch or a thrown chair has a way of bloodying the nose or blackening an eye.

Hey, it happens.

So speaking of blackened eye(s), three-time Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers is apparently walking around with a honey of a shiner these days. Word is he got it from falling out of his wife’s Escalade after an evening out drinking and listening to music at a bar in Jacksonville, Fla. That’s the story for now, anyway. When the black eye was first reported, Brett told the Phillies brass that he got nailed by an errant throw from his four-year old son, Kolt.

That one was a doozy, but it seemed to be the most feasible. Having seen Kolt in action around the ballpark and the clubhouse before and after games, the kid has a helluva of right arm. When the genetics fairy touched young Kolt, they gave the kid his dad’s fastball, but let’s hope they gave him better reading ability or ability to judge a situation better than his old man, too.

Anyway, the story is Brett tripped on some of the kid’s toys when exiting the obnoxious, gas guzzling behemoth. However, according to a report from Dave Murphy over there at High Cheese, there was a fight at the bar/restaurant Myers and his wife were hanging out in. Moreover, Brett and his wife Kim were right in the middle of it, too. The cops showed up though there was no police report and the witnesses all seem to be telling the same story.

Yet despite the black eye, the acknowledgment of a fight, the police presence, the Phillies and Myers are sticking with the fell-out-of-the-Escalade bit. In a text message from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the official line appears to be that they are standing behind their guy:

“As has been published and from what Brett has told me, he was not part of an altercation that occurred at the establishment where he was.”

Reading between the lines there it sounds like it’s all on Brett. Smartly, the “witnesses” also are telling the same stories and since there is no police report, looks like all we have is a black eye from an ill-fated exit from a tacky car.

So let’s get back to Teen Wolf for a second:

Let’s add one more caveat to Coach Finstock’s advice… don’t get into a bar fight across the state from the ballpark where you are scheduled to do a rehab assignment the next day. Also, don’t do this in a contract year, and especially don’t get involved in an “altercation” just four years after an arrest where the prosecutors want you to plead guilty to assault and battery, serve two years’ probation, enter a program for spousal abusers and undergo an outpatient alcohol abuse evaluation.

Follow those rules and everything else is cream cheese.

Everything is cream cheese…

There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.

— Coach Finstock from the major motion picture, Teen Wolf

image from fingerfood.typepad.com I’m not into absolutes. After all, the grey areas are much more interesting. However, there are a few pearls of wisdom – little guidelines if you will – that I undoubtedly will pass along to my sons.

The easy place to start is with Coach Finstock’s words to Michael J. Fox’s character, Scotty, the so-named “Teen Wolf.” Sleep, as we all have learned, is so much more important to one’s health than food. And I’ll wager that it’s probably a really good idea not to play cards with a guy who has the first name of a city as well as a woman with a tattoo of a dagger.

Getting involved? Hey, to each their own.

But it goes without saying that those people generally are much more comfortable with pain than the average dude on the street. Hey, we all know that parents are giving kids goofy names these days, and we also know that self-mutilation is trendy as all get out. But there is nothing about a man named Blaine or a chick with a tramp stamp that strikes fear into my heart. A insomniac named Frisco and a woman with a homemade tattoo of a knife made with a penknife, well, I steer clear.

It just makes sense.

I’ve taken those rules from Coach Finstock and added a few to them over the years. Hang around with pro athletes for a decade in Philadelphia and eyes open a bit. It’s not quite like being in a war, but it’s kind of like being on the fringes of a really big fight. Sometimes, by accident, a stray punch or a thrown chair has a way of bloodying the nose or blackening an eye.

Hey, it happens.

So speaking of blackened eye(s), three-time Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers is apparently walking around with a honey of a shiner these days. Word is he got it from falling out of his wife’s Escalade after an evening out drinking and listening to music at a bar in Jacksonville, Fla. That’s the story for now, anyway. When the black eye was first reported, Brett told the Phillies brass that he got nailed by an errant throw from his four-year old son, Kolt.

That one was a doozy, but it seemed to be the most feasible. Having seen Kolt in action around the ballpark and the clubhouse before and after games, the kid has a helluva of right arm. When the genetics fairy touched young Kolt, they gave the kid his dad’s fastball, but let’s hope they gave him better reading ability or ability to judge a situation better than his old man, too.

Anyway, the story is Brett tripped on some of the kid’s toys when exiting the obnoxious, gas guzzling behemoth. However, according to a report from Dave Murphy over there at High Cheese, there was a fight at the bar/restaurant Myers and his wife were hanging out in. Moreover, Brett and his wife Kim were right in the middle of it, too. The cops showed up though there was no police report and the witnesses all seem to be telling the same story.

Yet despite the black eye, the acknowledgment of a fight, the police presence, the Phillies and Myers are sticking with the fell-out-of-the-Escalade bit. In a text message from general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., the official line appears to be that they are standing behind their guy:

“As has been published and from what Brett has told me, he was not part of an altercation that occurred at the establishment where he was.”

Reading between the lines there it sounds like it’s all on Brett. Smartly, the “witnesses” also are telling the same stories and since there is no police report, looks like all we have is a black eye from an ill-fated exit from a tacky car.

So let’s get back to Teen Wolf for a second:

Let’s add one more caveat to Coach Finstock’s advice… don’t get into a bar fight across the state from the ballpark where you are scheduled to do a rehab assignment the next day. Also, don’t do this in a contract year, and especially don’t get involved in an “altercation” just four years after an arrest where the prosecutors want you to plead guilty to assault and battery, serve two years’ probation, enter a program for spousal abusers and undergo an outpatient alcohol abuse evaluation.

Follow those rules and everything else is cream cheese.

Here comes Floyd

image from fingerfood.typepad.com This weekend is the big, TD Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, the classic race that skirts through the Art Museum area, Fairmont Park and, of course, Manayunk. In some sections of town the race is a pretty good excuse to hang out and drink beer…

Not that there is ever a bad excuse.

Nevertheless, ever since the race was saved by a last-minute sponsor with a fresh injection of cash (hey, now), the comings-and-goings of the big race have kind of flown beneath the radar. Makes sense, of course, since most Philadelphians are more worried about ankle surgery for Brian Westbrook a full 12 weeks before the football season rather than some unknown bike racers tearing through town.

That would be the case, of course, if they were all unknown. But they aren’t. Floyd Landis is going to be there.

We all remember Floyd, of course. His story has been told and re-told thousands of times since he won the Tour de France in 2006 only to have it stripped away after two years of arbitration hearings and appeals through the kangaroo courts conducted by USADA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Since then Floyd has racked up $2 million in legal bills, according to reports. He moved at of his home in Murrietta, Calif. to shack up and train in a cabin in Idyllwild, a small town located in the San Jacinto Mountains south of Los Angeles.

He has a mortgage, had hip-replacement surgery, served a two-year suspension and gotten divorced. Now, he has been named in an international arrest warrant for hacking into the computer at France’s Chatenay-Malabry anti-doping lab. That’s the same lab that produced more than 200 procedural and protocol errors when testing his urine sample following the now infamous Stage 17 of the 2006 Tour de France. Floyd’s doctor Arnie Baker is named in the warrant as well.

And yet there he is riding in races against competitors that weren’t close to his level a little more than three years ago. Back then, he said, he was “in the best shape of” his life. These days he trains and races simply because he likes to ride his bike.

As he told VeloNews in January:

“I don’t feel in any way I am coming back to race to prove anything to anyone, or to myself for that matter. I enjoy racing for the same reason the majority of people race their bikes, whether it’s on a professional level or any other level. I think the sport deserves to have the best riders in the best races. For that reason I think this year is going to be better than it has been in a long time.”

Dime-store psychology aside, riding the bike might be the only thing that makes sense in Floyd’s life these days. In fact, before the racing season began there was talk of Floyd joining a major team and racing in the 2010 Tour de France.

But as the season developed, Floyd hasn’t won any races. He’s had some crashes and strong attacks, but hasn’t been a major threat in the final standings. Hey, racing is hard and chances are he’ll be a threat soon, but in the meantime he’s coming to Philly because he likes to ride his bike…

Kind of like the folks out in Manayunk who like to drink beer.

***
Speaking of Floyd, Brett Myers had hip surgery today in New York City with hot-shot surgeon Dr. Bryan Kelly administering.

Incidentally, after he decided to have surgery Myers told me he saw pictures of his pitching before and after the injury. In one, his right leg was as high as his right shoulder in his follow through, but in the post-injury photo, his range of motion was noticeably shorter.

The surgery should be good for Myers to regain his flexibility and with it, his velocity.

***
Speaking of Floyd, J.C. Romero returned last night for the first time after serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Interesting: in MLB, 50 games for a positive test.

Hell, in cycling, it doesn’t even have to be a real positive test to get a suspension.
In cycling, two years for a positive test.

The Magnificient Bastardo

image from fingerfood.typepad.com The other day we were told that Antonio Bastardo doesn’t speak very much English. In fact, in order for him to communicate with the scribes a translator would need to be found before the rookie lefty got on the bus for the trip to the airport.

At least that’s what we were told.

Now my grasp of Spanish is probably only as good as Bastardo’s English, I reasoned. As it related to baseball, I once caught Jose Mesa and Bobby Abreu making fun of me in Spanish in an elevator in Baltimore. When I laughed out loud at the jokey insults, Jose and Bobby clammed up quick.

Hey, McCaskey kids know all the Spanish curse words.

But imagine my surprise when I saw the kid speaking a language I knew reasonably well on my web site. You can hear it, too, when you go over to CSNPhilly.com along with one where Raul Ibanez translates for the winning pitcher.

Is there anything Raul can’t do?

Plus, the TV cameras showed the rookie talking about his first outing with Jamie Moyer in the dugout during the seventh inning after he had been lifted. Who knew Moyer’s Spanish was so good?

Nevertheless, it must have been an interesting conversation between the 46-year-old, 23-season veteran and the 23-year-old lefty after his first game.

Tangents aside, it was a very impressive debut for the 23-year-old prospect recently compared to Johan Santana – that is if Santana threw 95 and had no need for a changeup. Frankly, Bastardo didn’t need that changeup either – or any other pitch – thanks to the big lead the offense spotted him. It has to be easier facing a flu-ridden Jake Peavy in a big-league debut after a first-inning four-spot.

No sense jerking around with a big lead – just rear back and throw the gas. Even the rookie knew that.

Beaming after the victory in San Diego, manager Charlie Manuel (yep, the video is on the CSNPhilly.com) was impressed that the kid got by with just one pitch.

“He was on a rush and you couldn't slow him down if you had to,” the skipper said. “He did one thing real good and that was to be aggressive and he wasn't afraid to throw the ball. He has a good changeup and a breaking ball, but he was gripping the ball and trying to throw it, so there wasn't much action. But he did a super job, but he did it with one pitch.”

He’ll need more than the gas on Sunday when he pitches at Dodger Stadium, but in the meantime it’s a pretty gutty start.

As far as recent debuts for the Phillies’ prospects go, however, Bastardo fits in pretty well. Not quite as good as Brett Myers or Carlton Loewer, but pretty good nonetheless (links to box scores):

Antonio Bastardo at Padres on June 2, 2009: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for win

Kyle Kendrick vs. White Sox on June 13, 2007: 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 4 K for a ND

Scott Mathieson vs. Devil Rays on June 17, 2006: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 2 BB, 5 K for Loss

Cole Hamels vs. Reds on May 12, 2006: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 5 BB, 7 K for ND

Gavin Floyd vs. Mets on Sept. 3, 2004: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 4 BB, 5 K for Win

Brett Myers at Cubs on July 24, 2002: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K for Win

Brandon Duckworth vs. Padres on Aug., 7, 2001: 6 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 4 K for Win

David Coggin at Expos on June 23, 2000: 6 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 1 BB, 4 K for Win

Randy Wolf vs. Blue Jays on June 11, 1999: 5.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 6 K for Win

Carlton Loewer vs. Cubs on June 14, 1998: 9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K for Win

Meanwhile, prospect Kyle Drabek pitches in Reading tonight in the former first-round picks’ first outing above Single-A. Perhaps a dubious weather forecast for Thursday pushed up the outing by a day?

Shot from the hip

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Brett Myers joins teammate Chase Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Lowell, Alex Gordon and Carlos Delgado (amongst others) who have (or will) undergo surgery for a torn hip labrum. And that’s just in baseball. Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals and Floyd Landis are two more notable athletes who had hip surgery recently.

That’s not all, either. Hip pain and injuries are the bane of distance runners and soccer players and it appears to have replaced the knee as the injury in baseball.

Of course shoulder injuries in pitchers are the biggest of the big, so the hip has a ways to go to catch up.

Nevertheless, with Myers acknowledging that he has to have hip surgery – whether it’s now or later is to be determined – the question has arisen about all the labral tears and hip surgeries.

What’s the deal with that? Is it something sinister or related to nefarious acts? Are these ballplayers built differently or doing something their predecessors did not?

Well, no.

Ballplayers in the old days had hip injuries and labral tears, too, only back then they called it a groin injury or some other catchall phrase. But with sports medicine and athletic training reaching new heights of insight and with technological advancements of the diagnostics, things like labrum tears and spurs are found much more easily.

Think about how many careers could have been saved if certain players were simply born in a different era. Or think about how much pain some players went through just to play their game. We know that tons of pitchers would have been able to have longer careers if Tommy John surgery had existed before 1975. That’s just one example – what was it like before arthroscopic procedures?

What if Mickey Mantle (for example) would have been able to have modern medical procedures instead of the slicing and dicing he underwent?

Anyway, Myers will need surgery and the consensus from a few medical folks who I described his situation to seem to think he will be best served to have the surgery now instead of later. Of course Myers is going to see Dr. Bryan Kelly, who just might be the Michael Jordan of hip ailments.[1] Clearly Dr. Kelly will steer Myers to the right path.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Nevertheless, a few medical folks seem to think that Myers’ shoulder injury from 2007 might have led to his hip problems. The reason they think this is because of the significant drop in the velocity of his fastball seems to point to Myers pushing off harder with his right leg in order to throw pitches as hard as he did before the shoulder injury. By having the surgery as soon as possible – and hoping that the damage isn’t too bad – Myers could be recovered in time for the stretch run and should be throwing as hard as he once did.

Of course Myers wants to pitch now. The best season of his career came when he pitched out of the bullpen when he pitched nearly every day in September of 2007. His durability was his strength and would have been attractive on the free-agent market this off-season.

The guy likes to pitch and even when he was in pain on Wednesday night, he didn’t want to come out of the game.

Certainly it makes the decision for Myers that much more difficult.

*
I watched Randy Wolf pitch for the Dodgers against the Cubs at Wrigley Field last night and it appears as if the ex-Phillie is finally 100 percent healthy. It was easy to think about Myers and the medical issues he faces when watching Wolf pitch. Several surgeries and lots of perseverance has Wolf looking like the strongest cog in the Dodgers’ rotation.

That 3-1 record and 2.84 ERA and .221 batting-average-against would look sharp for the Phillies these days.

Still, count on the Phillies being active on the rumor mill from here on out.

*
I missed this the other day, but last Tuesday was the 50th anniversary of the greatest baseball game ever pitched. That’s when Pittsburgh’s Harvey Haddix, a Phillie for two seasons, threw 12 perfect innings in Milwaukee, gave up a hit in the 13th inning and lost, 1-0.

Boggles the mind.

Anyway, check out Albert Chen’s story on Haddix’s game in the recent SI. The amazing part was the Milwaukee Braves were stealing Pittsburgh’s signs with binoculars and still couldn’t get a hit.


[1] Hey Doctor Kelly… I’m a distance runner who can’t shake the hip tightness and pain. Am I ever going to be fast again? Damn hip!

Just a little shave

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Perhaps the best part about Brett Myers’ effort in the victory over the Yankees in the Bronx on Friday night came on the second pitch he threw of the game. That’s when he reared back and hummed a fastball behind leadoff hitter Derek Jeter as if to call out Yanks’ pitcher A.J. Burnett and say, “OK punk, if it wasn’t for this stupid DH rule, that fastball would have been in your ribs.”

But most importantly, that pitch said, “That [crap] stops right now.”

That’s how Myers answered Burnett’s second pitch of the game after that pitch plunked Chase Utley between the shoulder blades. His first pitch, of course, ended up over the short porch in right where Jimmy Rollins knocked it to get things started.

So much for a professional courtesy…

Either way, there was no doubt to the intent on the pitch from Burnett. Sure, he’s wild and all of that jazz, but Chase Utley isn’t exactly a tough target at the plate. Plus, in the American League pitchers can get away with that kind of stuff because they don’t have to fear repercussions. But the whole premise of the bean ball is just a little chicken bleep. A guy like Burnett gets upset and throws a ball at another player?

Lame.

A long time ago – back in The Vet days – longtime scribe Kevin Roberts and I were discussing the dynamics of beanballs and beanball fights or maybe just fighting in general. You see, get a couple of writer types in the media dining room a good hour before game time and the topics run the gamut. And the insight!

Anyway, Kevin’s argument made a lot of sense (but then again that’s no surprise):

“If you do something I don’t like, I’m not going to throw an apple at you from across the room,” Kevin said. “I’m going to get up, walk over to you and punch you in the face.”

Like a man.

Manly is the only apt description for Kev, but that’s beside the point. No, the issue is Myers took care of Burnett’s jackassery immediately and there was no more incidents the rest of the way.

There weren’t any quotes about the pitches from Myers (or Burnett) on the record because baseball players rarely talk about those types of things on the record. Off the record they’ll tell you about clubhouse rifts and friendships lost if a pitcher doesn’t respond in kind.

Sometimes they even react the same way Shane Victorino did during Game 3 of last October’s NLCS. You remember…

Apropos of nothing, the two players from that video who went the most bonkers and attempted to escalate matters, (and were fined) are two of the players currently serving suspensions for testing positive for banned substances. Coincidence, right?

Anyway, I like a good bench-clearing brawl as much as the next guy, but they do kind of have that British Navy element to them, don’t they? Remember when the Brits invaded the Falkland Islands during the ‘80s and sent the Royal Navy into the southern hemisphere after them? What did they do, say, “Oh, it’s on Falklands… see you in a week!”

A hitter running those 60-feet, six inches to get after a pitcher is hardly a stealth attack. Plus, all baseball players do is grab each other and dance around a bit. They don’t have to throw bean balls at each other if all they want to do is dance.

Keeping cool


Ryan Howard went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in Sunday's season opener. (AP)

OK, everybody… deep breath. All at once – inhale and then exhale.

One more time…

Now, do we feel better?

No?  Not even when we realize that there are six months and 161 games to go?

“We played one game, man,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

“Oh my goodness,” Jimmy Rollins said in mock/sarcastic horror. “I am heartbroken that we lost a game.”

Yes, the Phillies opened their most anticipated season ever with a resounding 4-1 loss to divisional foe Atlanta in a game where starter Brett Myers gave up three home runs and four runs in the first two innings.

Meanwhile, Braves’ ace Derek Lowe pitched a two-hitter through eight innings where he got the Phillies to make 17 outs in which the ball never left the infield. As a result, panic has set in, the title defense has gone awry and the sky is falling. Didn’t they see the omens when a paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne completely missed the stadium and landed in the parking lot with the ball for the ceremonial first pitch?

Or when they removed the ladder from the field to the stands where Manuel was raising the championship banner?

Talk about your omens.

So excuse the Phillies if they are not as worried about the loss in the first game as everyone else. Excuse Manuel if he isn’t too concerned about the amount of lefties in the middle of the order or the grounders Lowe coaxed out of his team. Pardon Myers if he did not fire his glove into the stands and kick over the water cooler upon his exit from the game.

Excuse the Phillies if they don’t go 162-0.

Continue reading this story …

Opening Night: First inning

image from fingerfood.typepad.com It's kind of hard to believe that Brett Myers is making his third straight Opening Day start. After all, Myers pitched out of the bullpen just a handful of starts after his maiden Opening Day start.

Last year, of course, he still had his head in the 'pen during the opener. In fact, the Phillies more or less admitted that Myers got the nod over Cole Hamels as a reward for being a good soldier in 2007.

This year Myers got the start because Hamels wasn't ready to go. Because of that Myers might be more ready to pitch since he does not have the first-time jitters nor his mind wandering about being a closer.

Hell, he might just allow himself to go out and pitch this year. Pretty novel concept, huh?

Anyway, Myers pitched cautiously to cleanup hitter Brian McCann after Chipper Jones laced a two-out, two-strike single.

Apparently it wasn't cautious enough because after falling behind in the count to McCann, Myers left a fastball up and it ended up in the second deck. Just like that Myers was in a 2-0 hole.

So much for our theories, huh?

Against Lowe, the Phillies went in order though Chase Utley gave the fans a start when he flied to the warning track in right.

On another note, Pat Gillick threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jayson Stark, sitting to my immediate right, offered that the ex-GM probably warmed up in the 'pen before delivering a solid strike across the plate to catcher Chris Coste.

I countered with Gillick was probably wondering how he was unable to get rid of Coste after all this time.

opening night: second inning

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Just saw a guy having a conversation with a person even though he had his cell phone plastered to his ear. Very odd.

Also on the odd front was Myers' first pitch of the second inning to Jeff Francoeur… that one turned into a souvenir and gave the Braves a 3-0 lead. An out later, rookie Jordan Shafer smacked one near the 409 sign in left-center.

For Shafer it was a pretty big hit in his first Major League plate appearance.

Yeah, that's right… a home run in his first Major League plate appearance. Pretty good. Jermaine Dye was the last Brave to homer in his first AB. Mark Saccomanno of the Astros was the last big leaguer to homer in his first at-bat. He did it last Sept. 8.

Meanwhile, all the homers shoot my theory about Myers being relaxed right in the rear.

Derek Lowe has been relaxed — six up and six down for the new Brave. He also has a four-run lead.

Opening Night: third inning

image from fingerfood.typepad.com OK, maybe Brett Myers is just getting his work in? That can be the only explanation considering the Braves are tee-ing off on him. In fact, little Yunel Escobar ripped one high off the wall in deep left-center for a double. Myers was lucky, too, because it came inches away from being the fourth homer of the game.

Then again, before his late June demotion to Triple-A last season Myers was leading the Majors in homers allowed by a wide margin.

But unlike his first two frames, Myers stayed away from trouble. After the double, the pitcher whiffed Chipper Jones, got Brian McCann to pop out and Garrett Anderson to ground out to end the frame unscathed.

Nevertheless, Charlie Manuel got J.A. Happ up in the ‘pen.

Meanwhile, Derek Lowe made it once through the Phillies lineup and finally got the first hit of the season. The honor goes to Carlos Ruiz whose ground-rule double inside the third-base bag.

So far the Phillies are 1-for-10 this year.

Opening Night: Fifth inning

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Maybe Brett Myers has settled in? After all, he seems to be on a roll here after working out those early-inning jitters. Following Yunel Escobar's third-inning double, Myers retired eight of nine before Chipper Jones belted a double.

He bounced back from that hit by whiffing Brian McCann for his fifth strikeout. However, Myers has not tossed a single perfect inning. The Braves have scratched out a hit in every frame so far.

Meanwhile, Derek Lowe appears to be loose as a goose. After Chipper Jones made a nice pick and throw to nail Jayson Werth in the fourth, the pitcher and third baseman were yucking it up near the mound. Call it just another game for the veteran righty.

Lowe also has been quite economical. Through five innings, he has thrown just 64 pitches (43 strikes) with three whiffs and a single.

Lowe is making it look easy.

Opening Night: Sixth inning

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Brett Myers is probably finished for the night considering he is set to bat second in the sixth inning. Still, his line won't look too good though he certainly settled in after the second inning.

Myers line: 6 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 3 HR — 97 pitches

To end his night, Myers whiffed Derek Lowe with a 3-2 curve.

Yes, Lowe is fearsome.

Speaking of fearsome, rookie Jordan Schafer was given a two-out intentional walk. In getting that walk Schafer holds tight to the mantle of greatest hitter of all-time.

Meanwhile, Greg Dobbs got his first pinch-hit of the season (a fly out to the track in right) and the Phillies sent four hitters to the plate in the sixth. Call it a taught two-hitter for Lowe through six…

And call it a blogging night for me. It's time to go do some writing about this epic, so check CSNPhilly.com after the game… or better yet, now.

Friday morning: Short rest and small ball

The concept of short rest is one the Phillies’ starting pitchers are going to have to wrap their heads around in… ahem… short order starting now. After Jamie Moyer picked up his 14th win of the season by turning in nearly six innings of solid ball on just three days rest, Thursday night, Brett Myers might try to pull the same stunt on Sunday.

A lot can happen between now and Sunday, but depending on the reviews of a regular, between-start bullpen session on Friday, Myers likely will declare himself ready to go with just three days rest, as well. But then again Myers would start both ends of a doubleheader if manager Charlie Manuel let him. The point is the Phillies aren’t leaving much to chance with just 15 games to go.

“I’ll pitch [Thursday], I don’t care,” Myers said after Wednesday’s start. “If it gets us to the playoffs, whatever it takes.”

Deep down, Myers probably wasn’t joking.

Technically, Manuel has a handful of options for this Sunday’s series finale against the Brewers, though only one seems to be a sure bet. So for the sake of argument, let’s just say Manuel could choose the following options:

  •          Kyle Kendrick – Sunday would be his normal turn in the rotation and the young righty has missed just one start (later made up) all year long. However, Kendrick has been downright dreadful in his last six starts. Though he has 11 wins in 29 starts, Kendrick is 1-4 with a 11.35  ERA since Aug. 11. Numbers like that make it difficult for Manuel to be confident with Kendrick on the mound.
  •          J.A. Happ – The lefty has pitched well in two starts this season, but sending Happ to the mound in the middle of the pennant race for just his fourth big league start seems like a big risk. Happ will have a solid Major League career, but he’s not going to be Marty Bystrom for the Phils this year.
  •          Adam Eaton – Yeah, never mind.
  •          Brett Myers – The opening day starter has worked on short rest just once in his career, however, last season he pitched nearly every day down the stretch out of the bullpen. Is there a difference? Yeah, most definitely. Nevertheless, the pressure is something Myers thrives on. If the Phillies take the first three games of the series, look for Myers to go after the sweep on Sunday.

Expect a hint about a decision on Friday afternoon.

***
The Phillies added an important insurance run during the eighth inning of Thursday’s win over the Brewers with a suicide squeeze from runner Shane Victorino and bunter, Carlos Ruiz. With one out in the inning, Manuel said he waited for the right chance to flash the sign, which came on a 2-1 pitch.

Ruiz laid it down perfectly to allow Victorino to score with ease.

“I guess I’m finally acting like a National League manager,” Manuel joked. “I figured it was time to show them I knew the squeeze sign.”

The inspiration to give Ruiz the sign came from the catcher himself, Manuel said.

“I heard Ruiz when he went up the steps. He turned around and asked, ‘What’s the squeeze sign?’ That kind of told me … he wants to squeeze. Seriously, that’s the truth. I figured I might as well let him squeeze.”

Good idea.

***
Elsewhere, Bob Ford chronicled the rise of Mr. September, Ryan Howard. The big fella added to his league-leading home run and RBI totals in the win over the Brewers and just might have inserted himself into the MVP discussion again.

Fonzie, Richie Cunningham, Joanie, Chachi, Laverne, Shirley, Jeffrey Dahmer, Liberace, Heather Graham and Todd Zolecki all come from Milwaukee. But only Todd wrote about the Brewers’ September swoon and Jamie Moyer’s top-shelf effort on short rest.

Coming up: Floyd Landis preparing for a comeback? Plus, regular-season awards.

Myers on the way back or way out?

From the way it looked on the tee-vee, it appeared as if there was some excitement down there at Citizens Bank Park. Based on reports on the Internets it seemed as if the Mets were going to win in a laugher, but those wily Phillies made ol’ Billy Wagner sweat it out again in the ninth.

Is it me or does Wagner’s fastball look as if it has slowed to Myers-esque velocity?

Speaking of Brett Myers, a few of us got to chat him up after his second minor-league outing at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown after he earned his first win since he beat the Florida Marlins on May 30. Myers pitched 7 1/3 innings, making through three hitters in the eighth inning. He allowed three runs, two of which were earned, as well as seven hits, two walks and a hit batsmen.

The hit batter came on a fastball, which I thought was a good sign because it showed that the big righty was finally throwing his fastball inside on hitters. I guess he got it in a little too much in that case, but still, progress is progress.

I wrote all about it right here.

Even better than burying one in some dude’s ribs was that Myers’ best inning of the game came in the seventh when he responded to his teammates scoring four runs to take a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth by striking out the side. In fact, the radar gun on TV showed that Myers had his speediest heater during that inning.

Obviously, when handed a lead late in the game, Myers wasn’t interested in giving it up.

“That’s what a winner does,” pitching coach Rod Nichols said when asked about Myers’ seventh inning. “He got the lead and went out and struck out the side.”

Still, the big issue isn’t so much as if Myers will get it together in the minors. Why wouldn’t he? Say what you will about the big fella… just don’t think he doesn’t have his pride. Better yet, give him credit for stashing his ego to the side for a moment and realizing that he needed to fix some things.

Then again, perhaps he should have showed up to spring training focused on being a starting pitcher.

Regardless, Randy Miller of Bucks County and yours truly asked Myers about his future as a Phillie and whether or not recent developments affected his immediate or not-so distant tenure with the club. After all, the trading deadline is a little more than three weeks away AND Myers’ contract runs out after next season. If the guy really wants to be a reliever more than a starter as reported, it would seem that his time with the Phillies is tenuous at best.

Nevertheless, when the subject was broached whether or not he “needed a change of scenery,” Myers had a pretty clever answer.

“What, this isn’t a big enough change of scenery?” he joked.

Touché.

Indeed, pitching for the IronPigs in Allentown is quite a change of scenery compared to pitching for the Phillies in Philadelphia. So too is riding to the next game on a chartered bus as opposed to a chartered plane. One flies and the other might have bunk beds.

So next time out Myers will pitch on Saturday for the Phillies… that’s the Reading Phillies. Rather than travel with Lehigh Valley to Syracuse, Myers will pitch in Reading against Akron. After that, Myers is hoping to rejoin his old teammates back in Philadelphia.

“Hoping? I’m planning on it. There’s no hope about it – I’m just getting my work in and working hard to get back there and show them I’m ready.”

Two in the books

The first inning went pretty well for Brett Myers. Just like in his last outing, he threw a lot of fastballs to start. Plus, he got some help from the Louisville Bats. Chris Dickerson, the first hitter of the game, popped up on the first pitch. Former big leaguer Rob Mackowiak worked an eight-pitch walk after Myers got ahead 0-2.

But Myers got out of the inning when he got Aaron Herr to ground into a 1-6-3 double play on the first pitch.

Needless to say, Louisville isn’t very patient.

Interestingly, Aaron Herr is from Lancaster, Pa. where he was a star baseball player for Hempfield High just like his dad, Tom Herr. Tom, of course, played for a long time with the Cardinals, Twins and Phillies before he quickly got washed up and caught on with the Mets and Giants. Tom Herr also managed the Lancaster Barnstormers in the sandlot league Atlantic League before he spent one season managing in the Nationals chain.

Aaron Herr was a first-round pick for the Braves in the 2000 draft, but still hasn’t made it to the Majors. He’s has played in the Braves, Reds, Indians and Cardinals organizations, but for one reason or another hasn’t gotten the big call.

Even more interesting than that, Lancaster resident Gordie Jones is sitting to my left.

The Lanc is definitely in the house tonight!

Anyway, Myers allowed a run in the second after the Bats scratched out three straight singles. None of them were hit particularly hard, but it is worth noting that Myers is throwing strikes – 19 of his 24 pitches in the second were strikes – and he is using the fastball exclusively.

Still, after two Myers is trailing, 1-0.

On another note, Ricky Bottalico is the TV analyst for the Pigs’ games. He’s pretty good though I suspect the FCC ought to tune in from time to time just in case. Before the game, Ricky talked to a couple of writers and then went on the tee-vee to talk to the good folks at CSN and dropped this little nugget on Myers:

“This whole situation is partially in his head,” Ricky Bo said. “He just seems a little confused. I think he was confused at the whole situation at the beginning of the season. When you don’t put your heart into something you’re really not going to do well in your job, and I don’t think he’s put his heart into the starting rotation at all.”

So we’re waiting here in Allentown

Hey, we’re back here at lovely Coca-Cola Park here in Allentown, Pa. to watch Brett Myers make his second minor-league start. So far things are going much more smoothly since the last time we were here. For starters, I actually found the place without taking a wrong turn.

Yes, we take our victories where we can.

Nevertheless, it should be an interesting to see Myers tonight. This time Myers will face the Louisville Bats, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and fellow first-round draft pick, Homer Bailey.

As far as big-time matchups in the minors go, Myers vs. Bailey is pretty good.

Meanwhile, Myers needs a good outing tonight because… well, because he needs a good outing. That’s pretty obvious seeing as he went from starting on Opening Day during the past two seasons and now he’s pitching for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

If there is a team Myers could do well against it’s Louisville. Last night the Bats did a whole lot of missing against IronPigs’ lefty starter Les Walrond, who notched 17 strikeouts in a 2-0 victory. Word from some scouting-type dudes is that the Bats can’t hit a curveball if it were placed on a tee.

Since Myers seemingly abandoned his fastball last time out for the Pigs, maybe tonight is his night?

Anyway, if I get to it I’ll post some updates from here in A-town. One note: last time there were 13 writer dudes covering Myers’ outing. This time we have Gordie Jones from Allentown and Randy Miller from Bucks County.

You know it’s a big game when Randy is lurking around.

Lidge signed for 3 more years

After a spate of surprising moves made by the Phillies this week, one has to wonder if there is more coming. Could a big trade be looming on the horizon? With the team in first place in the National League East and the team’s brass on the record indicating that they would like to bolster its pitching staff, it’s a fair assumption.

That assumption is greatly enhanced by the developments this week.

It started on Tuesday when the club announced that it had coaxed maligned Opening Day starting pitcher Brett Myers to accept an option to Triple-A Lehigh Valley in order to iron out his difficulties on and off the mound. A season removed from working as the team’s closer, Myers struggled with the transition back to a starting role in 2008. In 17 big-league outings, Myers was 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA and had allowed a Major League-leading 24 home runs.

Upon accepting the… ahem… mental rehab trip to the minors, Myers told The Philadelphia Inquirer that he preferred pitching out of the bullpen and saw a future as a big-league closer.

“I want to be great, and honestly, I realized last year that I’d only be a good starter,” Myers told the Inquirer. “I felt like I had rock-star status as a closer. I enjoyed the bullpen. I felt like they liked me in that role. But it was easier to get a closer than another starter. (Closer Brad) Lidge has done a hell of a job for us. I don’t think I could do better.”

Based on the developments on Sunday morning, the Phillies don’t think Myers could (or can) do better, either. As a result, general manager Pat Gillick announced that the club had agreed to a three-year contract extension with Brad Lidge worth $37.5 million. The deal lasts through the 2011 season with a club option for 2012 plus a few performance incentives and bonuses thrown in.

So if Myers is going to pitch for the Phillies in the future, it won’t be as the team’s closer. Yet then again, the Phillies did sign Myers to a three-year deal worth $25.75 million before last season to be a starter.

Clearly, the Phillies were serious about that.

“People have drawn the conclusion that he would rather close, and that may be the case, but let me put it this way: There’s a lot of things in life that a lot of people don’t want to do. But you’re getting paid, and you’ve got to show up for work and do the best job you can,” Gillick told reporters on Sunday morning. “He’s a gamer, and I think he’ll give 100 percent whether he’s in a closer situation or as a starter.”

Frankly, Gillick and the Phillies need Myers to start.

“We’re kind of stubborn. We think that Brett can start,” Gillick said. “We don’t see reason he can’t start. If he gets his mechanical issues straightened out down there, I don’t see any reason he can’t be in our starting rotation.”

Myers began his minor-league stint last Wednesday in Allentown for Triple-A Lehigh Valley where he allowed three runs and five hits with six strikeouts in five innings against the Yankees top Triple-A club, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. The big right-hander will make his second start in Allentown on Monday against Louisville and Reds’ top pitching prospect, Homer Bailey. But whether Myers will be elbowed out of the Phillies’ starting rotation appears to be up in the air, too. Of course if Myers irons out his trouble, which Major League and Minor League coaches say is mechanical and mental, then, yes, the Phillies will have a spot for him.

However, all indications are that the team will had another arm to the rotation. Rumors abound, of course, with names like starters C.C. Sabathia, Erik Bedard, A.J. Burnett, Jarrod Washburn, Greg Maddux, Bronson Arroyo and Randy Wolf, as well as reliever Brian Fuentes linked to a potential trade with the Phillies. Moreover, advance scouts from the Twins (Dennys Reyes? Livan Hernandez?) and Mariners have been watching the Phillies closely during the past week.

Yes, the future will be interesting for the Phillies.

While Myers’ place in the Phillies future is the great unknown, Lidge, 31, the closer acquired from Houston for Geoff Geary, Mike Costanzo and Michael Bourn last winter, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Though he could have tested a very lucrative free-agent market this winter, Lidge figured that all things being equal, he’d rather be in Philadelphia.

“Coming into the year, I knew that this was my free-agent year, but pretty early on, I started really enjoying everything here,” Lidge said. “I understand what [free agency] could be like, but for me, this is an easy decision. I’m enjoying everything so much here. I don’t know where I could go that would have a team with a better opportunity to get to the World Series, to win a World Series. For me, that’s the most important thing, so where better than Philadelphia.”

The Phillies appear to have gotten a relative bargain with Lidge, too. During the past three winters, Billy Wagner signed a four-year, $43 million contract with the Mets; B.J. Ryan signed a five-year, $47 million deal with the Blue Jays; and Francisco Cordero signed a four-year, $46 million contract with Texas last winter.

Based on Lidge’s statistics so far (19 saves in 19 chances, an 0.77 ERA in 35 games and 47 strikeouts in 35 innings) he could have earned a fatter paycheck if he played the market.

The Phillies, obviously, went going to let it come to that.

“Right out of the chute, when we made the trade, we knew this wasn’t going to be a one-and-done type of guy,” assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said in announcing the deal on Sunday morning. “We view Brad as somebody who can help us contend for many years. We all know how important it is to close out games you should win. This is an important piece to our organization’s future.”

Interestingly, Lidge has thrived in Philadelphia after a rough ending to his time in Houston. Between a few injuries and a crushing home run allowed to Albert Pujols during the 2005 NLCS, Lidge struggled with effectiveness and his confidence in his last year with the Astros. But during the second half of the 2007 season, Lidge regained what was missing and has reestablished himself as one of the best closers in the Majors.

The fact that some hitters say his slider is the nastiest pitch in the game certainly helps, too.

Nevertheless, Lidge has found himself with the Phillies.

“I think if you’re closing and you’re going through a rough time, it’s difficult no matter where you’re at,” the newly named All-Star said. “I was really excited for this challenge. For whatever reason, coming in here, I felt like this was where I needed to be. I enjoy the fact that the fans here are so passionate about the game. That gives me a lot of energy. I love it here.”

And Philadelphia loves him back… so far.

Next, is a deal for Pat Burrell in the works?

Stay tuned.

Coming up: The team that loved Tom Gordon and even more from the Olympic Trials.

Searching for a way back home

Apparently, Brett Myers’ outing in Allentown last night was a big deal. In fact, there were more people at Coca-Cola Park to cover the exiled Phillie than were in the Coca-Cola city to chronicle the Major League Phillies. According to published reports, there were six writers and zero television people in Atlanta with the Phillies, but there were eight writers that regularly cover the Phillies in Allentown along with at least three local TV outlets.

Anyway, I wrote all about it from the cozy press box in the brand-new ballpark before finding my car and proceeding to get lost at least three different times in search of Route 222 back to The Lanc.

I guess I should have checked the directions before I left, but I figured it could be fun just to wing it.

Guess what? It wasn’t much fun, though had I remained on Route 22 it would have taken me to 100, which would have easily linked me up with 222 through Reading and points south.

Yeah, sure… I know all that now.

Nevertheless, last night’s drive home was a lot like Brett Myers’ fastball against the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. Sure, we might have been heading in the right direction in the most general sense, but we sure were taking our time getting there.

In Brett’s regard that amounted to splitters in the dirt, two-seamers well off the plate and some rather pedestrian velocity. The last part is probably the biggest concern to the Phillies because it could signify that something is wrong, be it physical or mechanical. According to all concerned parties, they all believe it to be mechanical.

How quickly those issues get ironed out are another matter all together. The Phillies seem to be banking on the mental rehab trip to Triple-A as well as some insight from Pigs’ pitching coach Rod Nichols to be just what the doctor ordered.

Interestingly, Nichols just might be the one pitching coach Myers hasn’t butted heads with. In the case with Joe Kerrigan, the head butting was almost literal. Then again, Myers isn’t the only pitcher who threatened to take a poke at the ex-pitching coach.

Anyway, while Myers tried to find the plate with his fastball his lot seemed much better off than some guy trying to find his way home but instead ended up on the side of the road halfway toward Tamaqua.

***
If you have missed the U.S. Olympic Track Trials, you ought to be kicking yourself now. In fact, Monday night’s event card was worth the price of a full-event pass by itself. Actually, just the men’s 800-meters final was worth it.

Photo Finish

In what was widely being hailed as the greatest 800-meter race on U.S. soil, viewers got to see just about every element of middle-distance running and sports drama rolled into one.

Here, take a look.

Nick Symmonds of the Oregon Track Club won the race with a blistering kick over the final 300 meters. University of Oregon sophomore Andrew Wheating finished second to earn a spot on the team bound for Beijing next month. The interesting thing about the lean and lanky Wheating is that he has been a runner for just two years. He’s only 20 and he’s already going to the Olympics.

Meanwhile, four-time world champion Khadevis Robinson finished fourth and missed a spot on the Olympic team by centimeters when he was edged on a dive for the finish line by Christian Smith.

Yeah, that’s right… the two runners dived for the line for the last spot on the Olympic team.

Lopez Lomong came in fifth place but missed the last spot for Beijing by .11. Yeah, point-11.

After the race, Smith was sprawled out on the track with blood dripping off his arm from the huge brush burn on his shoulder from the dive. All the while, Symmonds said afterwards that the noise from the crowd at Hayward Field in Eugene was so loud that he couldn’t hear himself breathe.

It was just an awesome, awesome race. Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden was trying to think of a more thrilling track race and (rightly) came up with the epic duel between Haile Gebreselasie and Paul Tergat in the 10,000-meters in the Sydney Olympics of 2000.

My most memorable (not in order):

  • Geb edging Tergat in 10,000 meters in 2000
  • Zola Budd vs. Mary Decker in 1984 Olympics
  • Michael Johnson setting the 200m World Record in 1996 Olympics
  • Ben Johnson’s dirty 100 meters in Seoul in 1988
  • Prefontaine finishing fourth in the 1972 Olympics 5,000 meters (I only saw the tape)
  • Prefontaine winning an indoor mile in the 1974 LA Times meet
  • Ryan Hall obliterating the field in the 2007 Olympic Trials Marathon
  • Bob Kempainen winning the 1996 Olympic Trials Marathon despite some pretty evident stomach distress

Meanwhile, Bernard Lagat ran away with the 5,000-meter title in the Trials to make his first ever U.S. Olympic team. He’ll bounce back on Sunday night in the 1,500-meters, too.

Locally, Villanova’s Bobby Curtis finished sixth in the 5,000 meters to cap off a brilliant senior season in which he won the NCAA Championship in the event.

Villanova undergrad  Frances Koons runs in the women’s 1,500 preliminaries tonight along with ‘Nova alum Carrie Tollefson. On the men’s side, Penn grad Sam Burley runs in the 1,500 meters after a disappointing finish in the 800.

The women’s 5,000-meter finals on Friday night will feature ‘Nova grad Jen Rhines who went to the 2004 Olympics as a marathoner. Rhines is one of the favorites to make the team in the shorter event, but will face a deep field that features Maureen McCandless from Nazareth Academy.

Interestingly, Philadelphia Will Do’s Dan McQuade boasted that he smoked McCandless in high school cross country meets and caught her on the final straightaway in a local road 5k.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say DMac has no shot these days.

Also tonight, Jeremy Wariner takes on LaShawn Merritt in the 400. Friday night is the men’s 10,000-meter finals where current U.S. half-marathon champ and Millersville University alum, James Carney, should be a contender.

So we’re sitting here in Allentown…

… and Brett Myers is a Pig.

Yeah, that’s the name of the team here in Allentown. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Oddly enough, on the drive up here from The Lanc, I found myself driving behind a delivery truck carrying a gaggle of pigs.

So it’s not just a clever nickname.

Anyway, the ballpark here in Allentown is a lot like the one in Clearwater, Fla. and the one in Lancaster. Bright House in Clearwater might be a little bigger though.

I don’t know about the one in Lancaster – Allentown seems nicer.

I ran into Brett Myers upon entering the home clubhouse this afternoon, but, observing Major League protocol I didn’t say anything to him. The rule is that media types shouldn’t speak to the starting pitcher unless the pitcher speaks first. Cory Lidle, Greg Maddux and Kevin Millwood always violated the policy by talking to anyone and everyone that came near them on the days they pitched.

Nevertheless, Myers didn’t seem to mind that I didn’t greet him with a hearty, “Hello!” this afternoon. I’m sure he’ll have more to say after his outing. Check back late night or tomorrow for more on that topic.

Meanwhile, Brett kind of looks odd wearing a blue and white Pigs uniform with the number 44 on the back. Reggie Jackson was No. 44 for the Yankees. Danny Ainge was No. 44 for the Celtics… are there any other 44s I’m missing?

Anyway, off to work. I’m going to watch ol’ No. 44 throw fastballs at the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees in his mental/mechanical rehab assignment. That’s what it is, right?

Sounds like a broken record

Needless to say, there will be a lot of attention given to Kris Benson’s outing for the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs on Sunday afternoon. Though it’s unlikely that the outcome of the start will be much more than a warm up for Benson’s long rehabilitation, count on a bunch of the Phillies’ brass taking meticulous notes on every pitch.

As it turns out, it seems as if the team is looking for a starter.

At least that sounds like the case based on the quotes coming from Arlington, Texas after Opening Day starter Brett Myers tossed up another clunker on Friday night. Actually, the latest stinker might be the one that officially put the portly righty on notice. In just two innings Myers threw 66 pitches, gave up five hits, five runs, four walks and blew a four-run lead.

But wait, it gets worse…

In Myers’ last 12 starts the Phillies are 1-11, including losses in the last five straight. With a 3-9 record and 5.84 ERA, Myers has allowed fewer than four runs in just seven starts. He’s allowed less than three runs in just three starts, which isn’t bad when one considers that Myers is averaging just a little more than five innings per start.

Yet it was the two-inning clunker – one in which he walked three straight despite working with a four-run lead in the third inning – that finally made manager Charlie Manuel post an opening for Myers’ spot in the rotation.

“Can I say his job is secure?” Manuel told the scribes in Texas. “I don’t know what to say, if you want to know the truth. We’d have to find somebody to do his job first, I guess.”

In other words, if the Phillies had someone better Myers wouldn’t be going out there anymore. Really, how tough is it for a guy when he knows that the only reason the team continues to give him the ball is because they don’t have anyone else?

Myers must know what time it is based on how he reportedly busted it out of the ballpark without talking to the writers after the game. Typically a stand-up and an accountable guy when it comes to talking to the press about his job, Myers must figure that he doesn’t have anything new to say.

What else can he say?

What else can he do?

And what happens to Myers if the Phillies find someone better?

Here is the most telling quote from the manager as it appeared in The Inquirer:

“We’re trying to get him right,” Manuel said. “Myers’ best year is 14-9 as a starter [in 2003]. You stop and think about it, that’s not lighting it up. I mean, look, that’s not what you call a huge season. He’s had some bumps. He’s had moments on the mound where he’s had some struggles.

“Our expectation of Myers was always an 18-, 20-game winner. I said before the season started that in order for us to win, we needed 16 to 20 wins out of [Cole Hamels and Myers]. That’s kind of how we always evaluated him. His talent has always been there. Right now, things aren’t going too well for him. He’s having trouble.”

As a starter Myers had been very consistent in being inconsistent. In his four full seasons as a starter, Myers topped 200 innings once and never won more than 14 games.

Maybe he’s proving that he really belongs back in the bullpen.

***
If you missed the women’s 10,000 meters in the Olympic Trials last night, I bet you’re kicking yourself now. Described as a race that was at least four competitions in one, the Olympic qualifier had a virtuoso performance from Shalane Flanagan, a solid effort from Kara Goucher and drama galore when Amy Begley edged Katie McGregor for the last spot on the team.

But just barely.

Flanagan, the American record holder in the event, and Goucher ran away from the pack to finish in the first two spots, while Begley and McGregor dueled it out for the last spot for a trip to Beijing.

Only Begley and McGregor weren’t racing against each other – well, kind of, but not exactly. You see, to run in the Olympics an athlete needs to meet a qualifying standard of 31:45 for the 10K. If the top three runners don’t have the required time by the end of the trials race, the next best finisher with the standard makes the team.

So with Flanagan, Goucher and McGregor three of the four runners in the race with the qualifying standard met in a previous race, Begley spent most of the race one place ahead of McGregor watching the clock and running for her life. After the race she said she spent the last two laps doing math and running as fast as should could while holding out hope that she could squeeze in ahead of McGregor and under 31:45.

With a crazy sprint to the finish line and a last lap of 67.3, Begley made it under the standard by 1.4 seconds.

Then she collapsed on the track.

McGregor, conversely, finished in the worst spot possible for a trials race by coming in fourth. Worse, it was the second straight Olympic Trials in which she finished fourth in the 10,000 meters.

To infinity and beyond!

Brett MyersToday my soon-to-be four-year old told me: “Baseball is boring.”

I have to admit that I’m beaming at pride with the intelligence of the boy. After all, he’s only ever attended one Major League game (Phillies vs. Rockies at Coors Field in July of 2005), he has never seen a Grapefruit League game and hasn’t had to watch a team grind the season to a close when its 10 games out in Septmeber. So in that regard he seems to be ahead of the curve. Baseball’s potential blandness is evident in his unwired brain.

His dad, on the other hand, hasn’t yet figured it out. After trying to sell the kid on watching the ballgames from Cincinnati in a frozen moment in time that would surely look just like something Norman Rockwell would conjure on a canvas[1], I gave up. If the kid believed Buzz Lightyear and piles of Legos were more interesting than the Phillies vs. Reds, I wasn’t going to argue. It was a lose-lose situation all around and forcing matters would only make it worse, I reasoned. Besides, I have to choose my battles wisely. Let the kid watch Buzz and play with Legos…

So off I went to find another TV to catch a few innings before we rolled down to the Baltimore touristy spots for another Rockwell moment.

“Baseball is boring,” the kid taunted as I trudged upstairs to sit in front of the TV by myself.

Clearly the kid didn’t get to watch Brett Myers face the Reds on Sunday. There was nothing boring about that particular outing. Are fireworks displays boring? How about watching a chimpanzee attempt to button up an Oxford shirt? Even though the monkey doesn’t have opposable thumbs, nor does he look all that stylish in a button-down shirt (though that Lancelot Link was pretty smooth), you still sit there watching with the belief that he’ll figure it out.

No such luck.

Against the Reds for a couple of innings Myers’ lead shoulder seemed to fly open like a screen door on a windy day every time he threw his fastball. But when he threw his breaking pitches Myers’ delivery was more efficient and precise. Look, the only thing I ever really knew about pitching in baseball is that I had no shot at hitting it. Besides, I was just a guy who was about to load up the family truckster and drive an hour to the so-called “Charm City” in order to stare at some fish like a slack-jawed yokel. But I know what I saw in the second inning of the Reds-Phillies game on Sunday.

And if I saw it, what did the Reds see?

Anyway, Myers’ line (5 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 2 HR) wasn’t too good, though he says his stuff was improved from his first outing of the season. In that one, Myers also lasted just five innings and gave up four runs. He didn’t give up any homers, but said his fastball and curve were, “crap.” Yet despite Myers’ thoughts that his fastball was located better in his second outing than during the Opening Day loss, skipper Charlie Manuel wasn’t so sure.

As the manager told the scribes in Cincy:

“I’m sure he wants to pitch the best he possibly can, but in his last two outings, I’ve seen him have much better stuff, let’s put it like that. I’ve seen better velocity on his fastball. He was throwing breaking balls, splits, a change-up every now and then, mixing his fastball in, but he didn’t have the velocity or the command on his fastball that he usually has.”

Needless to say, it won’t be boring to see how Myers pitches during his next outing on Friday night against the Cubs.

It also won’t be boring to watch the Phillies and Mets go at it for three games at Shea starting tomorrow.

Other observations:

  • Pat Burrell (3 HR, 9 RBI, .435 BA) is off to a nice start.
  • The Phillies have not had a winning record in April since beating the Mets on April 18, 2005 to improve to 7-6.
  • It was fascinating to listen to Gary Matthews and Tom McCarthy talk about Cincinnati’s The Freedom Center and the regions’ role in the Underground Railroad during Saturday afternoon’s broadcast. It wasn’t quite like eavesdropping on a conversation between National Parks guides who were talking shop, but it was damn close.
  • Less fascinating was Harry Kalas’ insistence on calling the Reds’ Norris Hopper, “Dennis Hopper.”But, truth be told, Dennis Hopper would be a fun addition to a Major League Baseball club. Actually, Hopper’s Frank Booth from Blue Velvet, would blend right in to any clubhouse.
  • Speaking of Dennis Hopper and apropos of nothing, a few years ago I had a dream that the Phillies fired then manager Larry Bowa and replaced him with Larry David. A few of the players that I told this to said it would have been a good move.
  • Last year’s top draft pick Joe Savery made his debut for Single-A Clearwater last Thursday and it went fairly well. The lefty allowed just three hits and no runs in five innings with seven strikeouts. However, he did walk five.
  • The final home opener at Shea Stadium is tomorrow.

[1] I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the old David Letterman bit on the “lost” Rockwell paintings always kills me – “Turn Your Head and Cough.” It never gets old.

That’s one down

Brett MyersThe Phillies’ first game of the spring came off without a hitch on Tuesday night here in Clearwater. Actually, it was one of those nights when the outcome was never in doubt… the players would never get out of the clubhouse.

Actually, the only debate was whether the rain was going to continue to fall perfectly vertical or sweep in sideways.

Interestingly, the cooler temps and the pounding rain came right on the heels of some 80-degree heat, which I clearly wasn’t ready for based on the aftermath of the morning workout (I’ll spare the details).

Anyway, I’ll dive in more in-depth tomorrow when an actual baseball game is played. In the meantime, here’s the latest opus on Brett Myers being named the Opening Day starter for 2008. There is some school of thought out there that Myers got the nod over All-Star Cole Hamels as a reward for being a good soldier last season. As we all remember, Myers valiantly moved to the bullpen first as a set-up man for Tom Gordon and then as a closer after working as a starter for his first three starts of ’07.

Anyway, according to the Chamber of Commerce, Clearwater, Fla. is known to be a city of extremes. Actually, I just made that up. I doubt any chamber of commerce would drop that moniker on its town. However, based on the weather today and what is expected for the rest of the week, we’re going to be all over the map.

Still, while watching the rain pelt the ballfield, windows and landscape before pooling up wherever it could, I thought out loud, “Yeah, that’s so much better than snow.”

But snow melts and rain dries and so we’ll get back at it bright and early tomorrow morning.

Lidge to close, Myers to start

Brad LidgeGiven a choice, the Phillies and Brett Myers would have preferred to keep the team’s 2007 Opening Day starter at the back end of the bullpen. It was there, all parties reasoned, that the big right-hander showed the most promise, and, more importantly, the most consistency.

That’s not to say Myers isn’t a good starting pitcher. Au contraire. One does not become the 12th player taken in the draft, get a call to the big leagues at age 21 and earn an Opening Day starting nod a few years before hitting free agency (had one not decided to sign a multi-year deal) by being bad. That’s not how it works in the Major Leagues.

Needless to say, Myers is quickly learning just how things work in the Major Leagues. Even though he believes he is better suited to be a closer, and the Phillies are on the same page, Myers is headed back to the rotation in 2008.

After all, the Phillies didn’t trade three players to the Houston Astros to get Brad Lidge to be a set-up man for Myers.

“I’m upset,” Myers revealed. “[I am] not [upset] with the Phillies because I understand the situation. I’m upset because I think I found myself and my role this year as a closer. I know because I’ve been told by people in the organization that I’m best suited to be a closer. I know because I’ve done both and I felt that I was better as a closer.”

Myers pitched as a starter for four full seasons where he made no fewer than 31 starts in every season. However, during those four seasons he only reached the 200-innings plateau once and began to struggle with his fitness. Statistically, it didn’t seem to affect his work on the mound. In 2005 Myers had a 3.72 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 215 innings and followed that up 3.91 ERA and 189 whiffs in 198 innings despite missing several starts following his arrest in Boston in June.

Still, something seemed to be missing. When Myers was on as a starter, he was as good as pitcher in baseball. The thing about that is there were some really poor outings mixed in there, too. Take, for instance, his two starts following his Opening Day gem in 2007. After holding the Braves to four hits and notching nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings, Myers gave up 13 runs in the next 7 2/3 innings covering two consecutive starts. The last of those two clunkers, one in which he gave up seven runs on three hits and five walks in 3 1/3 innings on April 13 against the Astros proved to be the dawn of a new career as a reliever.

Twenty-one saves and a 10.8 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio later, Myers finally was the steady performer the Phillies always knew he would be.

Brett Myers “I definitely like closing more,” Myers said. “I like having the ball in my hands four of five days. The only thing I don’t like in starting is I may go nuts those four days in between getting the ball.”

But now they want him to step aside and be a team player.

“It definitely helps our rotation greatly,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said. “Brett Myers is an extremely talented pitcher. We put him in a tough situation last year and he came through for us. I think he’ll be able to do it again. With the market the way it is out there, it seems like it was the best thing to do. With Brett in there behind Cole (Hamels) it gives us a stronger rotation.”

Myers agrees.

“I was bred, from the time I was born to win for the team,” he said. “I understand what’s going on and I understand that for this team, me going back to being a starter is the move to make. I know my role.”

Myers is looking at the move as a win-win for the Phillies.

“There are positives in this. I think I’ve proven myself as a closer and as a starter,” Myers said. “I can be ‘Slash,’ the next Kordell Stewart. If the time comes and I’m on the market as a free agent, instead of two teams needing a starter and two needing a closer I can make myself available as both to 30 teams. This doesn’t mean I’m unhappy in Philly. I love the team and I love the fans but from a personal standpoint this certainly can help me in the long run.”

Time for a change
Lidge Brad Lidge knows his role, too, and he’s very pleased about joining the Phillies to perform it. Lidge, it appears, is excited about getting the ever-popular “change of scenery” after spending the first six years of his career in Houston.

“I do sense it’s true. I don’t know if I can put a finger on exactly why,” Lidge said when asked if a change is what he needed. “I’m extremely excited to get to a team that’s going to be in a competitive atmosphere. It gets that extra adrenaline going. It fires me up to be out there in that atmosphere, and when I perform my best, that’s what’s happening. It’s going to be great for me to help bring out my best.”

Certainly Lidge’s departure from the Astros marks the end of an era for that franchise. In fact it was Lidge’s (a hard-throwing right-hander from Notre Dame) emergence during the 2003 season that forced the Astros to trade Billy Wagner to the Phillies before the 2004 season. Wagner’s ouster from Houston allowed the team to add Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte to the rotation and sparked a run that ended with the seventh game of the NLCS in 2004, the World Series in 2005.

But after the 2005 season, things took a bit of a turn for Lidge. In ’06 his ERA ballooned to 5.28 and his control was off a bit. In ’07 the Astros moved Lidge out of the closer’s role early in the season, but he reclaimed it during the second half and went on to save a career-low 19 games. By the end of the year, Lidge says he had regained his old form despite the fact that he was headed to knee surgery on Oct. 1 to repair torn cartilage.

Needless to say, there still is some speculation as to why Lidge did fall out of sorts. One theory is that he was so rattled after giving up a two-out home run to Albert Pujols to blow a save in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS that he became a bit gun shy about walking that teetering edge of closing out games.

Lidge dismissed that idea.

“Initially, it was challenging because that’s why most people felt I wasn’t having success, even though I had to battle through a few other things,” Lidge explained. “Whether that was the case or not, I still believe a change of scenery is probably good for. I think Houston, in some ways, became a little stale.”

By Lidge’s explanation, his problems in 2006 and 2007 were multi-faceted. In 2005, he admits, he was a little spent from participating in the World Baseball Classic. Because he was pitching in those games, he says, his mechanics fell apart a bit because he had to be “100 percent sooner than [he] normally would.”

A reason for his troubles in 2007 was because he says he tried to add a cut-fastball to his repertoire of pitches. For some reason he was never able to master the pitch and wasn’t able to throw it for strikes when he needed to. But after a conversation with his ex-catcher Brad Ausmus, Lidge decided to junk the cutter and go back to just throwing his fastball and slider.

Lidge’s slider, Pujols once claimed, is one of the best pitches in the game.

Plus, Lidge says the torn cartilage in his right knee bothered him, too. Sometimes he could pitch without pain, but other times it got a little tricky, he says.

“It was a little different day-to-day. There were times where it was painful,” Lidge said. “It’s one of those deals where unfortunately it can be in the back of your head sometimes. I was really glad to have the surgery and put it behind me and move forward.”

Meanwhile, Lidge says his recovery from knee surgery is going well and like that cut-fastball, he should be able to get rid of his crutches at the end of this week.

“Right now, after having the surgery Oct. 1, I’m in the sixth and final week of using crutches. I am doing rehab right now,” he said. “As soon as I can walk, I’ll be able to do more extensive rehab and get my leg ready. Normally, I begin throwing the beginning of January, and I don’t expect it will affect anything at all.”

In the meantime, Lidge says he’s looking forward to getting ready to pitch in Philadelphia – a place where he was able to get familiar with the hometown fans when warming up in the double-decker bullpen close to Ashburn Alley.

“I knew as a visiting pitcher warming up out there in the bullpen, you’d better turn your ears off,” Lidge laughed. “Actually, I kind of like it that way.”

Good. It sounds like the transition from Houston to Philly will be rather smooth for Lidge.

¿Puerto cerrado?

Brett MyersIn perusing the Internets this afternoon, there were a handful of interesting things out there that were worth passing along.

For instance:

According to a story on Fox Sports’ web site by Tracy Ringolsby, Charlie Manuel stuck with lefty J.C. Romero with two outs in the eighth inning in Game 3 of the NLDS against right-handed pinch-hitter Jeff Baker instead of going to righty closer Brett Myers because, Myers wasn’t ready to go into the game.

As some might recall, Baker got the game-winning hit to eliminate the Phillies and Manuel was questioned after the loss in Game 3 of the NLDS why he stuck with the lefty Romero against the right-handed Baker.

Ringolsby writes:

Charlie Manuel is definitely old-school. He handled second-guessing about not bringing right-hander Brett Myers into Game 3 of the NL Division Series to face right-handed pinch-hitter Jeff Baker, who delivered the series-winning hit off lefty J.C. Romero, accepting the barbs. Word, however, is that the Phillies did call down to the bullpen to check on Myers and were told he wasn’t ready to enter the game so Manuel actually had no choice.

Here’s the entire report.

Oscar PereiroMeanwhile, Oscar Pereiro, the runner-up in the 2006 Tour de France to Floyd Landis was awarded the yellow jersey to symbolize his “victory” in the race. Rather than give Pereiro the jersey at the Champs-Élysées with all the pomp that goes with such a “victory,” the UCI and Tour de France brass held the ceremony in an office building in Madrid.

Way to go all out for your guy, UCI.

Nevertheless, the interesting part is how long will Pereiro be acknowledged as the “winner.” After all, a final decision in the appeal process for Floyd Landis’ case is not expected until February from the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. If Landis wins the case, what happens to Pereiro’s yellow jersey then?

Interestingly, Pereiro – who clearly is milking his one and only chance to be celebrated as a champion after he choked on an eight-minute lead in the ’06 Tour was barely a blip on the standings board in ’07 – is full of bluster regarding his “victory.”

“It’s good for sport to have mechanisms that can filter out those who cheat,” Pereiro said during the ceremony.

But what about Landis’ appeal?

“I now realize the Tour organisers had to wait for a resolution and I was wrong about them even though Landis has appealed again against the decision,” Pereiro said during the ceremony.

“This is a very important day for me and I’m not going to ruin it by thinking about any appeal.”

So he would do anything to win?

Still, are those mechanisms closing in on Pereiro?

During the 2006 Tour de France, Pereiro failed a doping test when traces of the anti-asthma drug salbutamol are found in a urine sample. The UCI cleared Pereiro of doping after claiming he had a medical clearance to use the drug. However, there is speculation that Pereiro is associated with the infamous “Operation Puerto,” which based on the Tour de France’s practices during the ’07 race, is enough to suspend the Spanish rider.

That’s especially the case when one considers that Pereiro was adamant about not subjecting himself to DNA testing to clear himself in Operation Puerto:

“It’s unfair that cyclists have to prove our innocence. I am ready to do anything, but if I have to use DNA to demonstrate my innocence, I will leave cycling, because it’s obvious that cycling like that isn’t worth it.”

Apparently, that’s not the case for Floyd Landis. Instead he believes it is worth it to subject his name and reputation to incredible scrutiny by putting himself through the flawed “mechanisms.”

Oh-wee-oh-wee-oh!

Because of the always inane and much ballyhooed discussion over Brett Myers and his entrance music I decided that it’s probably a good idea to have my own entrance music. Therefore, from now on whenever I enter a room, convention hall or do a perp walk, I want Morris Day & The Time’s, “Jungle Love” blasted from whatever speakers are available.

The choice was given the thumbs up from my three year boy who made me play it three times in a row so he could show me some new dance steps… not that I didn’t know them all already.

Meanwhile, my wife has been assigned Rick James’ “Super Freak,” which we believe is rather apropos and just barely edged out Sly & The Family Stone’s, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” Sly, of course, has been referred to as the “J.D. Salinger of funk,” which I think is a bit redundant, but whatever…

The matter of the entrance music blathered on by the team’s closer has a bit of a professional wrestling element to it. Has baseball become just like wrestling? Is it just a matter of time until a pitcher like Myers grabs an overhead microphone and calls out all his opponents, with the proper entrance and exit music wailing away in the background? Then again, baseball already has a sloppy drug-testing program like wrestling – perhaps there will be a wrestling-themed baseball offshoot in the making like that DOA XFL they tried to dump on hard-working television watchers a few years ago.

Better yet, maybe the WWF (WWE?) and MLB will just merge like any other self-respecting corporations?

I’m ready and I have my song picked out.

***
After last night’s loss to the Marlins in which Myers allowed a pair of runs in the ninth, the closer rightly noted that it was one of those “outhouse to the penthouse” nights. He also stated that the no-outs walk to No. 8 hole hitter Jeremy Hermida that was the key to the ill-fated inning.

“The whole key was walking Hermida,” Myers said. “If I don’t do that we get a double play and we get out of that inning.”

Then again, Myers threw a first-pitch fastball straight down the pipe to Mike Jacobs to start the frame. It was the same Mike Jacobs who went into the at-bat nursing a team-record 0-for-33 skid that was exasperated by a ground out and fly out in last night’s game.

“Oh, I was the guy to break it?” Myers asked. “Sweet.”

Maybe giving up a hit to a guy riding a 0-for-33 slide was a foreshadowing of things to come? It seemed that way after Myers allowed the two runs and was lucky not to give up more.

“I don’t have any excuses, if that’s what you’re looking for,” Myers said. “I didn’t make good pitches.”

Yeah, there’s that. But also Myers pitched in back-to-back games for the first time since returning from the disabled list on July 27. Though Myers had an easy time against the Marlins on Wednesday night and he argued that the consecutive appearances were of no consequence, it’s not out of line to suggest that Myers is still working his way back to form.

Plus, Myers is still learning how to be a reliever.

“The role he’s in right now will be outstanding for him,” manager Charlie Manuel said after last night’s game. “That’s still new to him. He’s getting used to it.”

Get down tonight

The chatter around the ballpark today has been for closer Brett Myers to settle on appropriate enterance music before the ninth inning. Apparently, Myers was upset that KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” was played as he came into last night’s game. Frankly, as I have written in earlier posts, this is pure silliness. Firstly, if Myers had an inch of ironic humor in his ever-expanding body he’s leave the KC & the Sunshine song.

Better yet, instead of some pretend phony toughness delivered through the majesty of song, maybe it would be more of a mind scramble if Myers entered the game to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine and Lollipops?”

In the same vein, I have always believed that if a player was going to take the time to select a song in which to choreograph his appearance in a baseball game, that player should also perform an interpretive dance or performance art piece using the song on their way to the batters’ box or mound.

If the song is “Shake Your Booty,” by all means, shake your booty.

Regardless of any of this, Myers should just worry about getting outs. If he continues to do that people will be writing songs about him.

***
The Phillies announced that they had traded for veteran slugger Russell Branyan this afternoon.

Nope, I didn’t get it either.

Either way, skipper Charlie Manuel said that the team has long had an interest in Branyan, a power-hitting lefty with a bad batting average and a lot of strikeouts. Nevertheless, Manuel wanted an extra slugger for the bench and that’s exactly what Branyan is.

“We just felt that at the moment we have 13 pitchers and only 12 position players so we’d like to have another bat,” general manager Pat Gillick said. “Consequently, Russell is a guy with tremendous power and gives Charlie another alternative is we have a pinch hitting situation.”

The Phillies had hoped that Branyan would be in the park for tonight’s game against the Marlins, but (surprise!) he flight was delayed heading to Philadelphia. When Branyan makes it to Philly, the team will have to adjust its 25-man and 40-man rosters and the early speculation is on option-ready reliever Geoff Geary heading to Triple-A Ottawa.

***
Rugby and triathlon legend Bill Boben was seen in the crowd for tonight’s game.

***
Thirty-three years ago today (“…effective at noon…”) Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States.

***
Tadahito Iguchi has a hit in 11 of the 12 games he’s played in since joining the Phillies. In fact, Iguchi has filled in quite nicely for All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. But when Utley is healthy and returns to action, don’t expect Iguchi to move over to third base in order to remain in the lineup.

According to Gillick, the budding Iguchi situation is something for Manuel to figure out.

“Right now, Iguchi is either going to play second base primarily or his secondary position is shortstop so we’ll see how that goes,” Gillick explained. “When Chase comes back, that’s a problem Charlie is going to have to work out. Right now, when Chase gets backs he’ll be in the lineup.”

Yeah, but what about third base?

“I would say it’s a very remote, remote possibility. It’s a different position third base in that you have longer to read the ball at shortstop and second base as opposed to third base which is a reaction position,” Gillick said. “A lot of times people that can play the middle of the diamond have a tough time moving to the corners.”

So before it could even begin, the Iguchi to third base experiment has been scrapped.

Back from a break

Hola amigos! I was busy procrastinating and managing my time poorly so I didn’t get a chance to post anything substantive here over the past few days. Because of that, I won’t try to overwhelm everyone all at once. Instead, here’s a few recent stories, trends, etc. that I thought were interesting.

Let’s go:

Ryan Howard finding a seat on the bench with Greg Dobbs, Rod Barajas, Jayson Werth and Michael Bourn for last night’s game against the Diamondbacks’ Randy Johnson was something that raised eyebrows and caused a few to say to no one in particular, “Hmmph.”

Cosmetically, I suppose, it makes sense in that it was left-hander Randy Johnson pitching and Howard is a left-handed hitter. Add the fact that Howard got a cramp in his hamstring during the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s loss and perhaps manager Charlie Manuel was just being safe than sorry.

“(Howard’s) played five days and Randy is pitching,” the skipper said before the game. “I figured from a conditioning standpoint, everything kind of points to me giving him a day off. He’ll rest tomorrow although he is available to pinch-hit. He had a cramp and once he got over it he was fine.”

But from another point of view – namely Howard’s – that explanation was just silly. Though Howard is hitting .133 in just 45 at-bats against lefties this season, he hit .279 with 16 homers against southpaws in his 2006 MVP season. Interestingly, Howard has never faced Johnson during his career, though Johnson has faced such notable Phillies as Ruben Amaro, Mike Schmidt, Bob Dernier and Floyd Youmans.

How does Randy Johnson get to face Floyd Youmans but not Ryan Howard?

Regardless, the notion of sitting Howard against Johnson doesn’t work anymore. Sure, Johnson can still pitch and he showed that by holding the Phillies to just one hit and no walks on just 61 pitches through six innings. But that famous fastball, apparently, isn’t what it once was and in sticking it to the Phillies last night Johnson relied on a slider that got in on the right-handers as well as the overzealousness of the hitters.

How overzealous were they? Well, the Phillies were so anxious that even with Johnson out of the game the Phillies went down in order in the seventh inning against reliever Doug Slaten on 10 pitches.

Anyway, in regard to sitting against Johnson, Howard said:

“It is what it is. It’s fine. It’s done. It’s good.

“I told them I was alright. It was my hamstring. I told them it was alright. I’m sure when I grabbed my left leg, which is the one where I had the quad injury, everyone thought it was that. My quad is fine.”

The Phillies, however, are not in the best shape. After all, it’s quite reasonable that “The Team to Beat” could be up to a dozen games behind the New York Mets in the NL East before the first full week of June.

What did Jimmy Rollins, the author of the “team to beat” quote have to say about getting swept by the Diamondbacks and falling below .500.

“Unfortunately everything that went right for us in Atlanta went wrong for us here,” he said. “We get tomorrow off. Regroup, come back and get some wins against San Francisco.

“The losing record is only one game below .500 fortunately but we do have to play better ball. Things we did in Atlanta we have to do the rest of the season.”

With 109 games to go in the season, the Phillies’ best chance rests with the wild card. But if it will take 95 victories to win the wild card, the Phillies have to go 69-40 the rest of the way. That’s .633 ball, which is about what the Red Sox and Mets are doing these days.

Can the Phillies do that too?

***
No one asked me, but I think the Arizona Snakes would be a much more menacing nickname than Diamondbacks. I don’t like snakes, in fact, I’m probably afraid of them. A Diamondback does nothing for me. Snakes and Bugs would be a better team name… the Arizona Flyin’ Bugs? That has a nice ring to it.

***
If you are like me and a fan/participant of endurance sports, it’s worth noting that Martin Dugard has a blog. I just discovered it yesterday after hearing him interviewed on The Competitors radio show from San Diego.

Speaking of cycling (wasn’t I), the 2007 Men’s Pro Cycling Tour hits the area starting this Sunday with a race through downtown Lancaster. It culminates on Sunday, June 10 with the U.S. championship in Philadelphia.

Interestingly, folks in Lancaster complain about some of the top cyclists riding through their downtown streets, while in Philadelphia they turn the event into an all day party.

Yes, in that regard I believe the people in Philadelphia are smarter than the people in Lancaster.

***
Back to baseball…

The Phillies, the very minor flap with John Smoltz was fascinating not because of what Smoltz said regarding Brett Myers’ move from the rotation to the bullpen, but because of the way the Phillies reacted to it.

You know, because the Phillies go to the playoffs every year and the Braves have just one World Series title in their 124 seasons in the Major Leagues… wait, I think I got those mixed up.

Anyway, from the way I read the stories from the long-forgotten sweep in Atlanta last weekend, it sounded as if the Phillies reacted as though Smoltz offered his sage opinion regarding Myers’ move to the bullpen instead of simply answering a question posed to him by a writer.

Come on… baseball players don’t go around offering their opinions to anyone who will listen.

Oh wait… I forgot about this guy.

Digressing again, assistant GM told writers last weekend that Smoltz really ought to just butt out.

“The Phillies have a great deal of respect for John Smoltz and what he’s represented to the Braves and to this division. He’s a Hall of Fame pitcher. At the same time, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for him to be making comments about personnel decisions that we’ve made as an organization.”

The entire thing could be a matter of poor reading comprehension on my part, but I don’t understand why the Phillies chose to comment at all, nor why they would be so dismissive of John Smoltz. In fact, I remember talking to him back when he was closing games for the Braves and asked him about the move from the rotation to the bullpen and how it affected his golf game.

Big time, is my many years removed paraphrasing of the conversation.

Back then Smoltz said that the training regime for a reliever was much more intricate than that of a starter. As a reliever, Smoltz had to be ready every single day and he had to train for that during the off-season. As a starter, he could pace himself a little more.

Certainly, in regard to Myers, I don’t think he injured himself because he wasn’t strong enough, stretched out or couldn’t handle the work load, but the everyday-ness of relieving could have caused a slight muscle weakness. Myers will definitely work all of those issues out if he has a long-term future as a reliever/closer.

***
Hey… Barry Bonds comes to town tomorrow. I bet he gets booed.

That was something

Yeah, well that happened.

Perhaps some day when Charlie Manuel is no longer the manager of the Phillies – say he gets fired or his contract is allowed to expire or something like that – the bottom of the ninth of last night’s inexplicable victory over the Florida Marlins will be shown over and over on a virtual loop.

Yes, it was that odd.

Where do we start? With Brett Myers starting another ninth inning with a four-run lead? With Greg Dobbs’ throw to the plate on a bunt? On Rod Barajas’ “For who, for what?” moment where Hanley Ramirez scored by going five-hole on him? On Myers’ injury? The comebacker that Clay Condrey snagged? Or how about how Condrey bounced back from his previous outing… that was something, huh?

Anyway, everyone seems to be talking about the Phillies’ crazy ninth inning from last night, so there is no sense in rehashing it here. However, I had been asked quite frequently today if I had ever seen the Phillies cough up a lead in such a manner.

Yes. Yes I have.

It was Sept. 3, 2001 at the Vet. A warm, Labor Day afternoon. The Phillies, in the thick of a race for the NL East with the Braves lost to the New York Mets, 10-7, by allowing five runs in the top of the ninth. Jose Mesa was credited with a blown save and the loss though his role in the loss was merely cosmetic. He simply blew it.

The real goat on that Labor Day was the reliever who followed Mesa, Jose Santiago. Santiago, as some remember, pitched in 95 games for the Phillies during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, compiling a 4.94 ERA, including a poor 6.70 ERA in 42 games during 2002.

But to me Jose Santiago will always be the pitcher who allowed the go-ahead run to score when missed the throw back from the catcher.

Let that sink in for a second…

Yes, he missed the throw from the catcher.

It wasn’t a wild throw or a hard one. He didn’t have to lunge for it or stretch with a little leap for it. He missed it. The catcher threw the ball to him and Santiago missed it.

He simply missed it.

As the ball trickled away from Santiago, Todd Zeile – not particularly the most fleet afoot – took off from second to third base and then scored when shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ wild throw skipped past Scott Rolen at third base. Jay Payton ended up going from first to third before scoring an insurance run.

The only thing missing was the circus music.

So when people ask about the ninth inning in Miami from May 23, 2007, tell them about the ninth inning at the Vet on Sept. 3, 2001 where the pitcher allowed the winning run to score when he missed the throw back from the catcher.

Just missed it.

***
Otherwise, waiting for the final prognosis on Myers’ strained shoulder must have a few folks at 1 Citizens Park Way feeling more than a little tense. Frankly, if Myers has a major injury, that could be all she wrote for 2007, folks.

***
From here the Phillies head to Atlanta for a weekend series against the Braves. Fortunately for the Phillies Ryan Howard will return to the lineup on Friday night. Even better for the scribes on the beat, The Vortex is in Atlanta, which, as they claim, is the place to go for burgers. From looking at the menu, it appears as if the joint is veggie friendly, too.

Not that anyone is interested in any of that silliness.

***
Today is Bob Dylan’s 66th birthday. Could Bob be the most notable person ever to attend the University of Minnesota? I say, “Yes. Yes he is.”

Happy birthday, Bob.

***
Special thanks to the good folks at The Mike Gill Show on 1450 AM in Atlantic City.

Keep on dancing

Since the first time I went to a Major League Baseball game in 1976, I’ll guess that I’ve been to over 1,000 games. Add in little league games, legion games, high school and college to go with a bunch of minor league games and it could be another thousand ballgames.

Whatever the actual total is, it’s a lot of games.

Yet of all those games I’ve seen exactly one – ONE – no-hitter. I watched a few on TV, but as far as being in the park to witness a no-hitter that honor goes to Kevin Millwood when he blanked the Giants at the Vet in 2003. I saw Eric Milton get to within three outs of getting one and Vicente Padilla come four outs away. I also saw one-hitters from Jim Gott/Roy Lee Jackson in 1982 and Randy Wolf at the Vet against the Reds in 2001.

I’ve seen more cycles at the Bank (David Bell and Brad Wilkerson) than no-hitters, ever.

Nevertheless, I thought I was going to witness one last night, though in the end it really didn’t get that close.

Cole Hamels, of course, carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and came within nine outs of finishing the no-hitter. That’s close, but still an inning away from it really getting interesting. Regardless, in facing one of the better hitting teams in the Majors (the Brewers lead all of MLB with 51 homers) Hamels seemed like he was the Harlem Globetrotters with the bucket of confetti and the ball on the string against the Washington Generals.

Quite simply, Hamels can pitch the way most people breathe, eat or go into out-of-control credit debt.

But what’s most interesting about this fact is that Hamels knows he is very, very good and doesn’t mind saying so. Better yet, he does this without arrogance or coming off as too overbearingly cocky. Instead, he’s just refreshingly confident and candid. In the clubhouse after the game last night, Hamels was asked if he thought he was going to get the no-hitter and if he believes he will get one in sometime soon in the future and he didn’t even hesitate with the answer.

“Oh course,” he said. “I try to think that every night… ”

Or:

“Of course. Every year I go out there and try to get at least one.”

It doesn’t sound outlandish that Hamels will someday toss a no-hitter, but then again people used to say it was just a matter of time before Steve Carlton threw one, too. When his career had ended, Carlton had six one-hitters to his credit and zero no-hitters.

***
Last night Brett Myers pitched in the third game in a row and his fifth of the last seven despite the Phillies holding a comfortable four-run lead and a bullpen full of relievers waiting to get a little work in. Manager Charlie Manuel has always maintained that he views four-run leads as save situations in cozy Citizens Bank Park, but even so using Myers in such a situation was a little curious.

Sure, Myers is stretched out and pitched around 200 innings for the last few seasons, but there has to be a delicate balance for how much a reliever can pitch…

Right?

Nevertheless, when asked if he would be ready to go today if he got another call in the ninth, Myers was succinct.

“Yep,” he said.

Meanwhile, much has been made about Myers’ choice of entrance music that is played over the PA as he makes the jog from the bullpen to the mound for the ninth inning; though it wasn’t queued up for last night’s outing because no one thought he’d get into the game.

Anyway, Myers wants “Children of the Grave,” the White Zombie version of the Black Sabbath song, to be played as he comes into the game. Apparently, in some sort of faux machismo, Myers believes Rob Zombie and the gang get the crowd “pumped up.”

“Doesn’t it have that aura about it?” Myers asked.

Uh, no. No it doesn’t.

If you’re going with Sabbath, it has to be “War Pigs.”

However, here’s an idea – instead of some pretend phony toughness delivered through the majesty of song, maybe it would be more of a mind scramble if Myers entered the game to Lesley Gore’s “Sunshine and Lollipops?”

Better yet, I have always believed that if a player was going to take the time to select a song in which to choreograph his appearance in a baseball game, that player should also perform an interpretive dance or performance art piece using the song on their way to the batters’ box or mound.

Hey, it’s a game, right? Let’s have some fun.

Here we are now, entertain us.

More: Lesley Gore – Sunshine and Lollipops

The new closer

For the second straight time in a victory, the Phillies got a 1-2-3 ninth inning from their closer. Interestingly though, one of those was from the closer who went to the All-Star Game in 2006 and saved 34 games. The other, on Thursday night, came from the team’s 2007 Opening Day starter who has pitched nearly 200 innings for the past four seasons and signed a three-year, $26 million deal during the winter.

The closer, Tom Gordon, as we all know, is gone for the time being. The timeline for his return is unknown after it was reported that he had another dose of cortisone injected to his injured shoulder and will be unable to attempt to throw a baseball for at least a week. From a strictly knee-jerk point-of-view it seems rather unlikely that Gordon will return as the closer this season. It seems more apt that Brett Myers, the new closer who is 1-for-1 in save chances for his entire career, will keep the job as long as he wants it.

Who knows, perhaps the closer role is one that Myers destined for all along? When Larry Bowa was manager of the Phillies there was talk of how Myers was the “closer-of-the-future.” His demeanor and repertoire of pitches, it was said, could be better suited for that role. Those ideas resurfaced during spring training when one intrepid scribe broached the subject with the Phillies’ brass. Before anyone could say, “great beard of Bedrosian!” talk of such a move was all over the television, papers, and the Internets.

Here’s what I’m wondering: based on the way Gordon ended the 2006 season, was the plan always to turn Myers into the closer? And secondly, when was the last time an Opening Day starter had a save before he had a win? Has there ever been an Opening Day starter that turned into the teams’ closer by the 28th game?

Anyone have the number for Elias?

Just some baseball stuff

According to some reports, Cole Hamels had 160 strikeouts in his first 25 starts (in 145 1/3 innings or 9.91 per nine innings), which is the second most by a left-hander over that span behind Fernando Valenzuela. Of course this doesn’t include his 15-strikeout performance against the Reds last week, or the six strikeouts he had last night in grinding out the win over the Braves.

Speaking of which, the win over the Braves was interesting for a couple of reasons, but mostly because of the way Hamels bounced back after the first and second innings. In those opening frames Hamels gave up seven hits to the first 11 hitters and, more importantly, three runs in the first inning. From watching on my TV (a set that is both falling apart, but artfully decorated with the post-modern crayon musings by a three-year old boy) and based on conversations from folks in the know, it was clear that Hamels had become a bit unhinged after giving up a home run to Chipper Jones in the three-run first.

Hamels also was a little beside himself during last Thursday’s loss to the Washington Nationals at the Bank when he struggled through 5 1/3 innings for his first loss of the season. Yet according to reports, Hamels was put back on track thanks to a visit to the mound by pitching coach Rich Dubee, who asked the lefty if he was on anything.

Yeah?

“He asked me if I was on anything,” Hamels told the writers. “I wasn’t, I just get that way sometimes with my adrenaline.”

As far as the strikeouts go, Hamels only got his first one in the fourth inning in the win over the Braves. He finished with six to give him 43 in his six starts (40 2/3 innings). Only the Padres’ Jake Peavy has more.

***
Also at the top of the strikeout-leaders list is Dodgers’ lefty Randy Wolf, who has 36 strikeouts in six starts and 35 2/3 innings. At 3-3 and riding a two-game losing streak, Wolf has worked into the sixth inning of all his starts, which puts him on pace for 210 innings this season. Wolf needs to pitch 180 innings to have a $9 million option for 2008 kick in.

Speaking of former Phillies, the Dodgers are considering using Mike Lieberthal at third base because of some injuries, poor play and few other options. Lieberthal, of course, has caught more games than any other Phillie in franchise history and hasn’t done anything on the diamond other than squat behind the plate since his junior year of high school.

Whether or not it comes to Lieberthal getting a new glove and standing upright on the field remains to be seen. At this point it seems that the ex-longest tenured Philadelphia athlete is struggling to get used to his new role as a backup catcher. Listen to Lieby tell the Los Angeles Times about the adjustment.

“I miss playing,” Lieberthal said. “That’s the best part of the day.”

***
Brett Myers threw nine of his 11 pitches for strikes in his two-thirds of an inning last night.

In his eight relief outings covering 8 1/3 innings, Myers has thrown 154 pitches, compared to 283 pitches in three games and 15 1/3 innings as a starter. I don’t know what any of this means, though manager Charlie Manuel and Dubee believe that Myers is still easing into his new role.

“He’s using up a lot of adrenaline right now because it’s so new to him,” Dubee told Courier-Post raconteur, Mike Radano.

For some reason it still makes sense to me to have Myers go for a four, five or six-out save on occasion even though Manuel seems to be locked in to using his players in well-defined roles. Until it’s proven to me that Myers can’t be like old-school closers like Bruce Sutter and pitch more than one inning, I’m always going to think it should be an option from time to time.

***
Phil Sheridan of the Inquirer columnized about the death of Josh Hancock and Tony La Russa’s “agenda.” According to reports it appears that Hancock might have been impaired while driving at the time of his accident. Meanwhile, La Russa was arrested for DUI during spring training and still awaits misdemeanor charges.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, La Russa “has declined questions about his arrest since making a brief statement to media hours after being released.” Asked about whether his manager should be more aggressive when dealing with such issues since his DUI arrest, Cardinals’ GM Walt Jocketty told the paper, no.

“Personally, I don’t think so. I see how he deals with things. I think he would tell a player, ‘Look, it could happen to anybody. It happened to me. You’ve got to be careful how you conduct yourself.’”

Either way, it seems to that this would be a good chance for Major League Baseball to do something bold or Tony La Russa to take a stand… or both.

Closing time for Gordon?

There’s nothing like a good, old-fashioned freakout/team meeting to get things rolling for Charlie Manuel’s team. Currently riding a season-best three-game winning streak, the Phillies have gone from the worst record in the Majors to the current second-best winning streak in baseball.

Last season, as everyone recalls, Manuel wigged out in the dugout between innings of a game in Florida and the Phillies promptly won nine in a row and 13 of 14. At 7-11, the Phillies are one game behind where they were last season at this time.

So the Phillies – with the wins and hits finally rolling in and three games against the lowly Washington Nationals coming up – are on the way. Right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Instead, the question now is who is the closer? Does Tom Gordon hold onto the role by default or is it there for Brett Myers to snatch away? Before yesterday’s game Manuel didn’t really clear that up.

Or did he?

“It depends on how quick Brett (Myers) can come along,” Manuel said. “Gordon is our closer and we’re committed to him until Brett becomes better or whatever and we’ll just have to see from there. Gordon still has good stuff. I think the fact he’s gotten hit is the location of the pitches he’s thrown.

“At the same time, we have to get Myers out there in a save situation to see how things go.”

As offered in a previous post, Gordon’s fastball still has its velocity but is struggling with the command with his curve. Plus, at 39, Gordon has a lot of miles on his arm over the last 19 seasons in the Majors. By all accounts Gordon should be able to handle the closer’s role for the foreseeable future though his success will depend on how often he’s used.

Gordon was used pretty heavily last season and responded with an All-Star season until coming up with a tired arm in August. He also missed some time during spring training to have his right arm checked out, which is nothing new. He missed the same amount of time during spring training of 2006 and bounced back fairly well.

Regardless, it appears as if Manuel is going to give Gordon every chance to hold onto the closer’s role. If he can’t do it, well, it appears as if there is a substitute waiting in for the call in the lower bullpen just beyond the center field fence.

“I don’t know if it’s a competition but let me put it this way I hope it’s a good setting for both of them because then we can have a strong bullpen,” Manuel said.

Thinking inside the box

Nobody likes a second-guesser or a Monday morning quarterback. Those types swoop in after the fact and offer a told-you-so type of opinion that really is quite gutless. Where were they on the first guess, is what I want to know. For those of us struggling with the first guess, we need all the help we can get. If the second-guessers are so smart, jump in and help out the first time.

Second guessing is unoriginal and boring. But sports-type people have dined out on it for decades. That said, let’s dish a little on the eighth and ninth innings of the Phillies’ inexplicable, 2-1 loss to the Reds, shall we?

What, you think we’re too good for second-guessing Charlie Manuel.

Ha!

Actually, my second guess is very simple and uncomplicated. I am, at heart, a simpleton – maybe even a little naïve, but that’s a different story. If something is broken, fix it. Otherwise, leave it alone. Simple.

But with Brett Myers, a starter for his entire career until two days ago, the manager Charlie Manuel was victimized by some compartmental thinking on Friday night in Cincinnati. By compartmental thinking we mean the set-up man pitches the eighth inning and the so-called closer pitches the ninth inning and never shall the two overlap. On Friday that thinking cost the Phillies the game.

Brett Myers should have pitched the eighth and the ninth innings on Friday. It’s as simple as that. Tom Gordon, the closer for now, has struggled all season long and admits that he is a bit behind because he took a week off during spring training to have his shoulder checked out. He also seems to rely much more on his fastball as opposed to his go-to curve.

Plus, Gordon struggled to get a save against the Nationals just the day before and since Manuel said he was reluctant to use the so-called closer on back-to-back days after he struggled during the second-half of 2006 because of overuse, it seemed like using Myers for two innings was logical.

Besides, who says a closer can only pitch the ninth? Under Manuel, Gordon pitched 59 1/3 innings in 59 games in 2006, while Billy Wagner worked 77 2/3 innings in 75 appearances. Clearly that shows that closers work just one inning for Manuel.

Brett Myers doesn’t have to be so limited. He was a workhorse starter just this week who averaged close to seven innings per outing during his career. So what does it hurt if he closes out a game by going two innings? Gordon’s ego, perhaps? Please. At 4-11 the Phillies are long past worrying about such trivialities. The point is if Myers is going to be moved to the bullpen to pacify Jon Lieber (who pitched rather well as a starter on Friday night – looks like he was “comfortable” after pouting his way back into the rotation), he should be used as a weapon instead of just a cog in the machine.

Asked about it after the loss to the Reds, Manuel told reporters: “Right now, Gordon is our closer. He’s been a closer. We signed him to be a closer. . . . That’s something we haven’t even discussed, and in some ways there’s no need to discuss it. We’ve got to get him sharp. The stuff is there.”

Joe Torre uses Mariano Rivera for two-inning saves from time to time. Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rich Gossage and Kent Tekulve (among others) pitched multiple innings as a matter of course during their work closing out games.

So why couldn’t Brett Myers do that on Friday night?

Deep thoughts…

Here’s an idea that will probably make a few people hold their heads as if they have a really bad migraine – you know, the kind where it pounds at the temples and feels as if someone or thing is shooting a low frequency wave through the skull that emits a shrill buzz in the inner ear – and question my sanity for such “unconventional” thinking.

I’m throwing it out there any way…

Maybe the Phillies should keep all of their starting pitchers. Yeah, that’s right, all Six. Before anyone goes crazy, here’s what I’d do – Cole Hamels, Freddy Garcia and Brett Myers would pitch every five days just like they customarily would in the square-boxed thinking that guides such things. Meanwhile, I’d try to figure out how to work it so that Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton and Jon Lieber started at least one game a week and if there were too long of a lull between outings, I’m sure there would be some relief work available, too.

What?

Exactly. My guess is that Moyer, Eaton and Lieber would be perfect compliments to the top three starters and would be much more effective if they were used like a dash of seasoning instead of as a main course. Better yet, if the trio made one start per week over a 26-week season then they would be that much fresher when the stretch run approached. Besides, it seems to me that good baseball teams treat the season like a chess match or a golf game where the importance of a move or shot is to put one in position to have an even better move or shot the next time.

Hey, I’m not kidding myself by believing that any manager or team would go for something like this, but what the hell? It certainly isn’t convention thinking, but ideas have to come from somewhere. Right?

***
Meanwhile, it looks as if Tom Gordon’s achy shoulder is aching again.

Last season, as everyone remembers, Gordon broke down a bit and went on the disabled list in August despite a first half in which he earned a trip to the All-Star Game. At 39, the Phillies are concerned about over working their starter as evidenced by the fact that he’s appeared in just two Grapefruit League games and by the fact that they sent him back to Philadelphia for a checkup with team doctor Michael Ciccotti.

Before anyone jumps to any conclusions (how could they?), the team says the trip is simply for a routine checkup and it’s something that occurred last year at this time, too. But before anyone can say Mike Jackson, perhaps the Phillies ought to get another arm for the ‘pen to go along with Ryan Madson and Antonio Alfonseca.

Until that happens, be sure that Charlie Manuel sticks to his guns and allows Gordon just one inning per outing no back-to-back work early in the season.

Myers talks about new deal

Brett Myers talks to the Philadelphia media about his new contract.

Myers Trim, Wallet Fat After New Pact
There was a time – not too long ago – when Brett Myers was a workout fiend. Before he had made the climb through the Phillies’ system to the big leagues, Myers would no sooner finish a workout before he’d start the whole process over again. In fact, during his early spring training days it wasn’t uncommon to see Myers in a darkened ballpark running lap after lap around the warning track and stands long after everyone had gone home.

Actually, Myers was downright arrogant about his training regime and the amount of time he put into it. Once, following a late-season start during his rookie campaign in 2002, Myers was asked when he planned on diving back into his off-season routine, the not-so big (at the time) right-hander responded with a dismissive, “two weeks.” When told that two weeks didn’t sound like a lot of time to allow his body to rest and heal after a long season of baseball, Myers curtly responded with, “That’s all I need.”

But somewhere between the 2003 season and the close of the 2006 season, Myers decided he didn’t need to work out much. Actually, from the clearly superficial view, it seemed as if Myers’ in-season exercise program occurred every five days when he took the mound. That’s not likely the case, but for a professional athlete to be listed modestly at 240 pounds (he admits to being 250 at the end of last season and over 260 at the end of the ’05 season), something must have slipped through the cracks.

Maybe Myers was burned out from the sometimes tedious nature of day-in and day-out regimentation? Or maybe he was following the lead of Kevin Millwood and Jon Lieber – two big righties that Myers followed around like a lost puppy who didn’t exactly conjure images of the buff dudes on the early-morning workout shows.

Either way, for a kid who grew up as a boxer and around athletics, it was quite out of character for Myers to get away from what got him to the big leagues.

But things are a little different now… that is to say things are the same as they were. What got away from Myers has returned – maybe not with the ardor as before – and the righty is leaner, maybe meaner, and ready for another crack at the playoffs with the Phillies.

“The weight doesn’t bother me when I pitch. I just felt that I owe it to myself and the guys in Spring Training this year to work a little bit harder,” the pitcher said, in town to meet the press after agreeing to a three-year, $26.75 million contract extension. “If we missed it by 12 games, then I need to lose 12 more pounds. I think everybody left last year with a bad taste in their mouths.”

Myers heads into camp next week at a more athletic 218 pounds, which, by his rationale means the Phillies should finish ahead of the pack by 20 games. Nevertheless, Myers said the difference this winter was watching what he ate, resisting his wife’s tempting offers of nachos and ice cream and getting on his program much earlier than usual.

“I started (working out) a little earlier this year and I haven’t been able to fit into this suit in two years now and I finally made my way back into it,” Myers said, sporting a figure-flattering single-breasted design. “I just kept working and the weight just kept coming off. I really had fun doing it and it didn’t get boring so I hope I can keep at it during the season.”

Be that as it may, Myers could be correct when he says that the excess weight didn’t bother him when he pitched. After all, he has been rather durable. He nearly pitched 200 innings last season even though he missed a bunch of starts stemming from his well-publicized arrest in Boston last June. Nor has Myers ever been injured… yet. Being back at his old fighting weight should only help in that regard.

Then there is the other stuff… off-the-field stuff that made many wonder if the Phillies and Myers would ever be in this position. Sometimes irascible with a reputation amongst teammates, coaches and media for being immature and difficult to work with, some have wondered if Myers was worth the trouble.

If Myers were any other pitcher, no one would have any concerns about the deal he just signed. In fact, most people probably don’t have any trouble with it. The stats on the page speak for themselves. Per 162 games, Myers averages almost 207 innings, 166 strikeouts, and for the past two seasons his ERA was well below the league average. Somewhere, beneath all of that baggage, a 20-game winner lurks.

It seems as if Brett Myers’ biggest problem is being Brett Myers. But since he’s now closer to 30 than 20, maybe the years and experience will help. Hey, some people mature later than others, and there always seems to be certain types of behavior that the talented and gifted possess. Maybe Myers’ impudent behavior has been tempered by experience?

“I think every year as you get older you get a little more mature, but that’s just over time and being in this world and learning the people around you and who to trust,” he said. “Obviously, family is a big part of my life and if they weren’t there than none of this would be possible.”

So about that incident in Boston where Myers was arrested for allegedly punching his wife on a street corner after leaving a bar (charges were later dropped), which resulted in his leave of absence?

“Things are great,” Myers revealed. “I think what it came down to, we had trouble communicating. I’m gone half the time and when I’m home, I get home at midnight and everybody’s in bed and I see you for an hour a day and it was one of those things where most of our communication is done by phone. I think it really benefitted us, not saying that the incident helped, but it was kind of an eye opener toward that. We just needed to talk a little more and be more supportive of each other.

“Coming from never being in trouble before to being in trouble, it’s definitely a humbling experience. I’m probably more humbled by it than anything.”

Myers was also quick to point out how supportive the Phillies were in coming to the aid of him and his wife.

“They were (supportive) from the beginning,” Myers said. “I felt terrible for the organization and my family that it had to come about, and it did come about. It was one of those things where everybody makes mistakes and we learn from them. None of these mistakes can ever happen again.”

The support he heard from the fans in his return from his leave also weighed in his decision for wanting to stay in Philadelphia.

“Just you asking me about it is giving me goose bumps. I really appreciated that,” he said. “Hopefully the support can keep coming in because this team really needs it. I grew a lot of respect for the fans after that day.

“I like pitching here. I relate the fans to my dad when I was a kid. If I didn’t play well, he was all over me. When the fans boo you, we already know we’re not playing up to our capabilities. I kind of need that tough love sometimes.”

That’s something he’ll get plenty of for the next three seasons.

Myers talked baseball, too
Brett Myers talked about a bunch of baseball-related topics during Tuesday’s press conference to announce his three-year, $26.75 contract extension.

Did he think he would be traded after the Phillies acquired Freddy Garcia and Adam Eaton?
“No, because we didn’t have contact with the Phillies. They didn’t call us or anything like that. I was excited that we could add two more guys to our rotation, and at that point in time, I really wasn’t concerned about it. Then we started negotiating and I started thinking about it a little bit.”

On general manager Pat Gillick’s off-season visit with Myers in Jacksonville, Fla.:
“It was real cordial. It was fun. We watched the Jaguars game together and sat around and just talked about life. Nothing really about baseball came up. I think he was trying to appease me by rooting for the Jaguars – I wasn’t quite sure.”

On the Phillies as the team to beat in the NL East:
“Whatever Jimmy (Rollins) says I agree with.

“I think with the guys we had last year we kind of want to be that team that has that necessary arrogance about us that we should be the team even though we realized it late in the season. I think this year we know we can compete with the Mets and we know we can compete with the Braves, so we have pretty much the same guys as last year and we’ve played together for an extra year. I think it’s going to be a lot more fun for us this year competing against those teams when we know we can beat them.”

On Cole Hamels:
“It’s going to be hard keeping up with Cole this year. Hopefully, everybody can stay healthy also. He’s the young guy coming up. When I came up, I didn’t really have anybody to talk to until we got Kevin Millwood, and he taught me as he could before he left. Since then, I feel like I need to take that role for Cole, and hopefully Freddy will. We’re not left-handed… maybe Jamie Moyer will play a bigger factor for Hamels.”

On potentially being the opening-day starter:
There’s so much emphasis on being the No. 1 starter and all it really means is that first game. My philosophy is, whoever starts [on any given] day is the ace.

Locked down

First reaction to the news that Brett Myers signed a three-year, $26.75 million deal (contingent on him passing a physical) on Thursday night? “They didn’t give him a no-trade clause, did they?”

Second reaction? “That seems like a fair deal. What, he was going to get about $5 million-plus in arbitration and much more if he were to become a free agent at the end of the season. Instead, it looks as if the Phillies gave him the going rate for youngish pitchers.”

Third? “Despite serious questions about his fitness, Myers has been fairly durable. He nearly pitched 200 innings last season even though he missed a bunch of starts stemming from his arrest. Nor has he been injured… yet.”

Fourth? “Three more years of that guy.”

Fifth? “Let’s hope the maturity that many in the Phillies organization say escapes him is found and locked down.”

Sixth? “He is pretty good.”

If Myers were any other pitcher, no one would have any concerns about the deal he just signed. In fact, most people probably don’t have any trouble with it. The stats on the page speak for themselves. Per 162 games, Myers averages almost 207 innings, 166 strikeouts, and for the past two seasons his ERA was well below the league average. There is a 20-game winner lurking beneath all of that baggage.

It seems as if Brett Myers’ biggest problem is being Brett Myers. But since he’s now closer to 30 than 20, maybe the years and experience will help. Hey, some of us mature later than others, and there always seems to be certain types of behavior that the talented and gifted possess. Let’s hope that impudent behavior has been tempered by experience.

And you are?

It’s definitely been too long since I updated this thing. Far too long, in fact. I guess the popular excuse is that I’ve been busy with going to Baltimore, the Myers/Phillies fiasco, regular old life as a parent of a wild 2-year-old boy, more marathon training, and all of those losing baseball games.

But since we’re all about debunking myths and not suffering fools, let’s deconstruct those silly excuses: for starters, Baltimore is much closer to my house than Citizens Bank Park. Plus, the drive to Camden Yards is much more interesting, enjoyable, and smooth.

I have no more comments on the Schuylkill Expressway.

Better yet, the press box at Camden Yards is my favorite one of all the ballparks. Coors is pretty good, and there’s something about that sky-high box at Fenway that I like, too. But as far as building ballparks go, they really did it right in Baltimore. Nevertheless, as soon as I empty out the contents of my camera onto this computer (more procrastination), I will definitely post my behind-the-scenes photos of Fenway Park.

As far as the other stuff goes, everyone is busy, lots of people have kids, tons of people run marathons, and I knew that Brett Myers was a ticking time bomb. No, no one expected this alleged crime, but most people who have been around him suspected something.

Here’s a story written in my small, local paper about Myers… if the author only knew.

As far as the running stuff goes, I have come to a revelation that the Arthur Lydiard method of training should be embraced. I was kind of on board back when I was younger and faster, but in retrospect, I listened to the wrong people. Those people always told me to run fast, fast, fast, which is correct if you are a middle-distance runner. For the long distance guys, it should be long, long, long. That’s where the Lydiard school of thought comes in.

Now I understand why all those guys I used to listen to were always injured.

Yep, like baseball, I could yap about running all day long.

As for the Phillies… oh my.

Yes, we all knew that the Phillies were not going to run away with the NL East and would probably have some difficulties with the pitching staff, but no one suspected that at the halfway point the team would be 37-44 and six games off the pace in the wild-card race. But aside from the 2-7 road trip and the three-week stretch where the Phils have gone just 5-17, there have been a handful of positives.

Really?

Of course. Ryan Howard is on pace to hit 56 home runs to shatter Mike Schmidt’s single-season franchise record of 48 (1980). Howard should also threaten the 140-RBI plateau. The most RBIs Schmidt ever had in a season was the 121 he drove in during his MVP season in 1980.

As an aside, should Howard be talked about as an MVP candidate?

Meanwhile, Chase Utley has become a solid partner with Howard in the lineup. Should the powers that be decide to “blow up” the team, Howard and Utley will be the base (along with Cole Hamels) for the future. Then again, Utley and Howard are closer to being 30 than 20… is it possible that the Phillies waited too long before giving those two a shot?

Tom Gordon has pitched admirably, earning an All-Star bid with his 21 saves and 2.12 ERA. With 41 strikeouts in 34 innings, he has certainly made everyone forget about whatshisname.

As for the recent spate of games, David Dellucci has been a pleasant surprise. In the last five games, the lefty has three homers and is 9-for-20. While in his last 10 games he is 14-for-32. In June, Dellucci hit .388 with four homers and 1.047 OPS, but in just 47 at-bats.

Maybe it’s time to showcase the veteran lefty before the trade deadline because it doesn’t seem as if the Phillies will need Dellucci for the playoffs.

Myers departs

BALTIMORE – When longtime baseball player Wil Cordero was arrested for domestic violence in 1997, the Boston Red Sox immediately sent the ballplayer home. Cordero had more important things to worry about rather than playing baseball, the Red Sox reasoned.

So for eight days the Red Sox went on with their business without Cordero. He wasn’t a distraction to the team because he wasn’t there nor was there any fodder for columnists or the talk shows about the Red Sox’s sensitivity toward women’s issues or domestic abuse, because the team jumped in and took care of the troubled employee immediately.

Ultimately, Cordero returned to the Red Sox for a little while and was eventually released. But not before the player did some work in Boston for abuse awareness and then plead guilty to the charges and received a 90-day sentence, suspended for two years.

Last weekend, the Phillies had a chance to be proactive in regard to one of their ballplayers up on charges of domestic abuse in Boston. Instead, the team allowed Brett Myers to pitch on national television against his idol, Curt Schilling, just a day after he was released on $200 bail. Additionally, the team issued a terse statement reading that the team was going to respect the privacy of Myers, and the alleged victim, his wife, Kim, and chose not to do anything.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. The Phillies chose to allow Myers to pitch.

Four days later, when Myers decided it might be the correct course of action to leave the team until after the All-Star Break, the Phillies finally did something. They allowed the pitcher to do what he wanted.

Again.

Perhaps this is the proper action. After all, unlike the Cordero case there are several witnesses that saw Myers’ alleged violence against a young mother of two small children. But the popular sentiment coming from Camden Yards on Tuesday afternoon was that the Phillies, once again, reacted instead of acted.

Not so say the Phillies. In team president David Montgomery’s statement issued through the club’s public relations staff on Tuesday, the club acted in the only way that it could:

“After last Friday, the Phillies did not comment further on the events surrounding the arrest of Brett Myers out of respect for the Myers’ privacy and because there is a criminal prosecution pending,” Montgomery wrote. “Likewise, the Phillies did not summarily suspend Brett Myers immediately upon his arrest, prior to any judicial determination of guilt or complete evaluation of the entire matter. Such a decision, unfortunately, has been portrayed or interpreted as the Phillies indifference to problems of spousal abuse. Nothing could be further from the truth. We abhor such violence and recognize that it is a very serious problem affecting a substantial number of victims, particularly women, across the country.

“If we have been guilty of delay in expressing these sentiments, we are sorry. We have been engaged in a difficult balancing of concerns for the rights of our employee, the presumption of innocence, the rights of his spouse, and the legitimate public concern about allegations of spousal abuse by a Phillies ballplayer. We believe that the present status, including a public apology by Brett Myers, time off from baseball, professional assistance for Brett and Kim Myers, and this statement achieves the appropriate balance for now.”

That’s all well and good, says Julie Cousler Emig of the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Collaborative, one of four organizations in Philadelphia that fights domestic violence and supports victims, but the Phillies are missing the ball once again. Cousler Emig wrote a letter to Montgomery indicating that she would like to see one of the large market Major League clubs like the Phillies take a bold stance on something as serious as domestic abuse.

“I think we’d like to see some further action taken by the Phillies,” said Cousler Emig. “It seems like Brett Myers offered a convenient out for the team to deal with this in a minimal way. We would like to see, in the meantime, the Phillies take us on our offer to join us in an anti-domestic violence complaint. This is really a chance for them to right some wrongs.”

The charges against Myers would be a good place to start. After all, it seems as if this recent arrest of a Phillies player is just the latest on a long list of some questionable behavior. For instance:

* Ugueth Urbina, the relief pitcher who spent most of 2005 with the Phillies, is currently in jail in Venezuela awaiting a trial for attempted murder. Urbina and three friends are accused of beating, hacking and torturing six workers in a dispute allegedly about the disappearance of a pistol from Urbina’s ranch. The workers said Urbina told his friends to splash paint thinner and gasoline on them before setting them afire.At the time of his arrest, Urbina was technically a free agent.

* Jason Michaels was arrested around 3 a.m. on July 3, 2005, after allegedly punching Philadelphia police officer Timothy Taylor as he left the “32 Degrees” nightclub in the Olde City. “He punched a Philadelphia police officer and wrestled him to the ground, in the process ripping the police officer’s shirt,” Philadelphia police spokesperson Jim Pauley said.It reportedly took four Philadelphia police officers to subdue Michaels, who spent nine hours in detention. However, Michaels reported on time and was in uniform for that night’s game against the Braves.

* Cole Hamels broke his pitching hand in a bar fight before the season began in 2005. The injury cost him most of the season and a potential chance to join the Phillies for the stretch drive. Hamels was not charged in the incident.

* Terry Adams was arrested during the 2003 season and charged with hitting his wife during a fight in his New York City hotel room before a game against the Mets. Adams was charged with an assault misdemeanor.

* Marlon Byrd was arrested in 2002 for an alleged assault on his girlfriend outside of the team bus when he was playing for Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. The charges eventually were dropped.

* Robert Person was arrested in Clearwater, Fla. before spring training in 2002 on charges of obstructing or opposing an officer without violence, and giving a false name, after failing to walk away from a fight when ordered. Person was hogtied by police after he smashed the back window of a police car.

The Phillies response after all of these incidents has been consistent – issue a statement through the PR staff and hope people get distracted by something else. No such luck in this case.

There is still time for the Phillies to be proactive this time. Perhaps the club can take Cousler Emig up on her offer and do something meaningful in combating the scourge of domestic abuse. Better yet, the Phillies and Myers could get involved in some behind-the-scenes work at a shelter without fanfare, press releases or TV cameras.

According to the Centers for Disease Control domestic violence is a serious, public health problem affecting more than 32 million Americans, that is more than 10 percent of the U.S. population, and three different Phillies have been in the legal system for alleged domestic abuse since 2002.

That’s three too many.

Official press release from the Phillies

PHILLIES STATEMENT CONCERNING BRETT MYERS

The Phillies are aware that Brett Myers was arrested in Boston at about 12:30 a.m. today on charges of assault and battery involving an alleged incident with his wife, Kim. He was released immediately after booking on $200.00 bail and ordered to appear this morning for preliminary arraignment, which he did. A further hearing date was set for August ­4, 2006, which does not require his appearance.

Out of respect for the privacy of both Kim and Brett Myers, the Phillies will not comment on this incident until the matter is resolved by the Court.

Myers will pitch, as scheduled, tomorrow afternoon against Boston.