Two weeks ago, I wrote a defense of Charlie Manuel’s decision to solve his six-starter problem by moving Brett Myers to the bullpen. As I saw it, Myers was the hurler most qualified by skill set to help the Phillies address their issues late in the game. Using him in high-leverage situations was an appropriate, if non-standard, way of aligning the Phillies’ misshapen roster.
Implicit in this defense was the idea that Manuel would not only use Myers in high-leverage situations, but take advantage of the righty’s background as a starter to use him for mutliple innings. I didn’t expect him to become classic Rich Gossage, but something like a Scot Shields, or the pre-closer campaigns of Mariano Rivera, Brad Lidge or even Duane Ward, seemed within his range. The Phillies, with no strikeout pitchers aside from Tom Gordon in their pen, had a real need for someone to shut teams down in the seventh and eighth innings.
As it turns out, Myers isn’t being used in this manner. Myers has made seven relief appearances so far, and here’s how they’ve gone:
April 18: starts the bottom of the eighth with the Phillies down 4-3. Throws 13 pitches in one inning, and is lifted for a PH.
April 20: starts the bottom of the eighth with the Phillies up 1-0. Throws 20 pitches in one inning, and is lifted for Tom Gordon.
April 22: starts the bottom of the ninth with the Phillies up 9-2. Throws 21 pitches in one inning, game ends.
April 25: starts the top of the eighth with the Phillies up 7-3. Throws 18 pitches in one inning, and is lifted for a PH.
April 27: starts the top of the sixth with the Phillies down 4-3. Throws 43 pitches in two innings, and is lifted for Ryan Madson.
April 29: for the only time, is brought into the middle of an inning, relieving Jamie Moyer with first and second, one out, and the tying run coming up in a 3-0 game. Strikes out the only two batters he faces on nine pitches, and is lifted for a PH.
May 1: starts the bottom of the eighth of a 2-2 game. Throws 19 pitches in one inning and is lifted for Antonio Alfonseca.
It’s the last outing that inspired this post. Myers has been underutilized in general, going more than 21 pitches just once as a reliever, but in three of those cases, it was because his spot in the lineup came up. If you’re going to convert a starting pitcher to a reliever, though, and act as if he’s important, then you can’t electively take him out of a 2-2 game in the bottom of the ninth with the top of the bad guys’ lineup coming up. Brett Myers is a better pitcher than Antonio Alfonseca, and the guy who you want pitching the highest-leverage innings. That Manuel didn’t leave Myers in for the ninth indicates to me that he doesn’t know how to get the most out of Myers as a reliever, which blows a massive hole in my argument that the move of Myers to the pen made sense.
With Gordon perhaps headed to the disabled list, Myers is considered the front-runner to replace him in the closer role. If that happens, instead of pitching in tied games, pitching multiple innings, and being used to get the opposition’s best hitters out, Myers will now be used to protect one- to three-run leads in the ninth inning, and only the ninth inning, irrespective of who’s coming to the plate. This puts Alfonseca, Geoff Geary and the rest of the low-strikeout relievers back in their high-leverage roles and leaves the Phillies with a weakened rotation and no improved bullpen. It would make more sense to let Myers make multiple-inning appearances, perhaps as early as the seventh inning, and run the pen without concern for the save rule. If you’re going to restrict Myers to the closer role, then you would be better off with him in the rotation, Alfonseca closing and Adam Eaton pitching middle relief.
Brett Myers could have been a weapon. Now, he’ll be just another cog in the machine.