CLEARWATER, Fla. -
Brett Myers is ever asked to close, he said yesterday, he would do it.
The Phillies begin their Grapefruit League schedule this afternoon against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland with six starting pitchers on their roster. They are expected to trade one of them - righthander Jon Lieber remains the likely candidate - to fortify a bullpen that remains a concern for the front office.
But if the Phils can't find a fair trade, they have kicked around an intriguing possibility to solve their six-man conundrum:
Keep all six and make Myers a closer.
Don't jump to any conclusions. This is only a hypothetical discussed in one of many brainstorming sessions this off-season. It may never come to pass.
"I'll do whatever helps the team," Myers said. "I wouldn't mind it. I wouldn't mind doing either one. Either way, the game is on the line."
The scenario would come about only if the Phillies couldn't trade one of their starters, and they have indicated that they expect something to happen before their April 2 season opener against Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park.
But general manager Pat Gillick reiterated yesterday that the Phils would not give away a starter, either.
Gillick said Myers could "do anything he wants to do. Anything he wants to put his mind to from a career standpoint, he can do it."
The scenario is interesting because it had been assumed that the Phillies would move righthander Adam Eaton or Lieber to the bullpen. (Lefthanders Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer and righthander Freddy Garcia are not bullpen possibilities.)
The Phils think Eaton needs a couple of innings to build up the velocity of his fastball, so he wouldn't be suited to a one-inning stint out of the bullpen. And Lieber doesn't field his position well, which is one reason the Phillies wouldn't want to move him to the bullpen.
Myers has the stuff and mental makeup to close.
"I like starting because I have a routine," the 26-year-old righthander said. "But then closing gives me a chance to get in the game every day. I like that, too. I think I could do it. I think my arm bounces back pretty well. But on the other hand, I'm used to starting."
The rotation looks stronger with Myers in it, which means the ideal situation still seems to be trading a starter like Lieber for legitimate bullpen help and keeping Tom Gordon, an all-star last season, in his closing role. Gordon battled a strained right shoulder last season, and the Phillies will be careful about his use this year. But he is healthy and preparing to close.
It's also unclear whether Myers and Gordon would share save situations. Myers does not appear to be an option as an eighth-inning setup man. Gordon had great success as a setup man with the New York Yankees. If he filled that role in front of Myers, the Phillies would have a formidable one-two punch at the end of games.
Gillick visited Myers in Jacksonville in the off-season, when the topic of the six starting pitchers came up.
"I told him I'll do either," Myers said. "I don't really care as long as it helps the team."
But he has concerns. Myers has a tremendous amount of respect for Gordon and doesn't want to take his job.
"He's done this a lot longer than me," Myers said.
He also wouldn't want to shuttle between starting and closing throughout the season if another starter went down with an injury. He'd prefer to remain in one role.
Myers as a closer isn't a new idea. Earlier in his career, the Phillies thought Myers would make a good closer - if he didn't improve as a starter.
"Those are two roles I'd like to be in as a pitcher," he said. "I like going every fifth day, but I also like having the ball every day. I get so excited when the coaches say: 'Pitchers, get your spikes on. We might have to use you to pinch-run or bunt.'
"I'm like the first guy with my spikes on, ready to go in the game because I'm sitting there watching the game and I get bored. I need to move around. But if they need me to do it this year or even sometime in the next couple of years, I think I could do it."