Desperate times. Desperate team. Desperate move.
The Phillies have taken a healthy, 26-year-old, power-armed starting pitcher who can throw four different pitches for strikes and moved him to the bullpen.
This isn't John Smoltz or Jonathan Papelbon giving up a starter's job to fill the crucial closer's role.
This is Brett Myers becoming a setup man.
Odd? Yeah. Radical? Yeah. Risky? Yeah, that, too.
For months, the Phillies have told us how hard they've worked to find a setup man to help deliver the ball to closer Tom Gordon. Nothing out there, no matches, they say with a shrug. (Funny, the Atlanta Braves didn't have that trouble.)
Yesterday, the Phils found their man. Less than three weeks after being honored as the team's opening-day starter, Myers was moved to a setup role.
That's how desperate this team is to save its season. A month ago, manager Charlie Manuel was saying Myers had 20-win potential. Now, Myers is charged with getting holds.
We're not saying this plan doesn't have some merit, and certainly not suggesting the Phils don't need some help getting those important holds. Sometimes the biggest outs of the game are in the seventh and eighth innings, where Myers will work. We just never thought Myers would go to the bullpen as long as Gordon was healthy.
Gordon is healthy.
It's the Phillies who are hurting.
This is not a completely stunning move, not if you've been paying attention. Though Manuel painstakingly tried to deny it in spring training, the Phils brass had talked about moving Myers to the 'pen for months and teaming him with Gordon as a late-game 1-2 punch. Ideally, Phillies bosses envisioned Gordon setting up for Myers. They've hedged a little with this configuration. Maybe they don't want to rub Gordon the wrong way. Either way, Myers is just a heartbeat from that job, so Gordon had better not stumble.
This is a risky move because Myers is already a good starting pitcher with the potential to get better. He doesn't want to bounce between the rotation and the bullpen, so he's probably in the 'pen to stay, at least for this season. He made the second relief appearance of his career last night and turned in a scoreless inning in the loss at Washington.
How Myers fares in the role is only half the risk. This move was made possible because Jon Lieber is still a Phillie and he has no interest in trying to take a stab at being an effective reliever. That, at least, is what his body language says.
Lieber is back in the rotation. He should have been there coming out of spring training. He outpitched Adam Eaton, but the Phils had brought Eaton to town to be a starter and they weren't about to back off that. It sends a bad message to future free agents.
Now Lieber has to deliver. If he doesn't, this move doesn't totally work. He can certainly be better than Myers was his last two starts. Despite all that talk about how he was ready to step up and be an ace, Myers allowed 13 runs in 72/3 innings over his last two starts. But that wasn't going to last. The guy is too good, too competitive, too driven to struggle for extended periods.
That competitiveness is a reason the Phillies always thought Myers might one day turn into a reliever. With his arm and temperament, it is not difficult to see him someday being a closer. Who knows, that day could come sooner rather than later.
Gaining a future closer, though, means the Phils have lost an important starter, arguably their best. That puts pressure on Cole Hamels and Freddy Garcia. Back in those optimistic days of winter, when Garcia was arriving and hopes were soaring, the Phils seemed to have a pretty nice 1-2-3 punch at the top of their rotation. Myers, Hamels and Garcia - in a short playoff series, you had to like the Phillies' chances.
Now, it seems ridiculous to even think that way. This team has the worst record in baseball.
That's a big reason why the Phils' brass made the move with Myers. They are desperate to turn this thing around.
That desperation permeates every inch of the Phillies' operation. Manuel is managing for his job and he knows it. General manager Pat Gillick, who gets the blame for not adequately upgrading the bullpen this winter, hasn't exactly been on a roll. Ownership, with a high payroll and big debt service on a stadium, has to be scared of what a lost season will do to revenues.
You hope the desperation makes it into the clubhouse. Manuel, Gillick and ownership are not leaving all those runners on base. Ultimately, this thing gets turned around by the players.
Two of them - Brett Myers and Jon Lieber - got new assignments yesterday.
Time will tell whether the moves are genius or goofy.
For now, they show just how desperate this team is.