ALLENTOWN - Three months after Brett Myers served as the Phillies' Opening Day starter, the beleaguered righthander last night donned the baggy Triple A uniform of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs to get to the bottom of why he has been so utterly unproductive.
The good news: No one hit one of his pitches over the "Enter to Win This Boat" sign in rightfield.
The bad news: He was once again so-so. He pitched five innings, gave up three runs, all earned, struck out six, walked two and uncorked one wild pitch in a 5-3 loss to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees. He threw 100 pitches, 60 for strikes. A search party has been dispatched for his fastball, which he threw only sporadically in favor of his curveball.
Myers said he had "fun."
"Being here was relaxed," said Myers, who conceded he has some work to do to get more power behind his pitches but said his curveball seemed to be working. "I am trying to get that swagger back that I used to have. I am trying to get cocky again. I feel better."
While his Phillies teammates were playing in Atlanta, Myers was facing the Yankees' top farm team in front of a standing-room crowd at Coca-Cola Park. It was the first Triple A appearance since 2002 for Myers, who struggled with a 3-9 record and 5.84 in 17 games this year for the Phillies. The Phillies optioned him to Lehigh Valley on Tuesday for what seems likely to be a few weeks. Myers consented to the demotion with what Phillies general manager Pat Gillick characterized as maturity.
"Obviously, I am not helping the team by giving up five or six runs a game," said Myers, who said he looked forward to working with IronPigs pitching coach Rod Nichols. "I had to get to the bottom of why the ball was up in the zone. I just needed a break to take care of some things without the pressure."
Early on, Myers pitched well enough in his initial outing for the IronPigs. He gave up a walk and single in the first inning and a double to lead off the second, but sat down the Yankees in order in the third and fourth. With an apparent confidence that seemed to be lacking with the Phillies, he retired nine straight batters from the second through the fourth. He also struck out five batters during that span.
But Myers encountered trouble in the fifth - only some of it his own doing. He walked leadoff batter JD Closser, who advanced to third on a passed ball and a throwing error by catcher Jason Jaramillo. Closser scored when Myers gave up a sharp, one-out single to center by Greg Porter. Myers then allowed a double into the rightfield corner by Justin Christian. With runners at second and third, Chris Basak drove in Porter with an infield hit. Christian then scored the third Yankees run on a wild pitch.
So what did the Phillies think of the performance?
"It was not outstanding but it was solid," said Mike Arbuckle, the assistant general manager for scouting and player development. "In the fifth inning he hung a few curveballs. He has to continue to get command of his fastball and consistency with his delivery. He had to take a step back and work on some things, and he accomplished that."
Nichols said he saw some of old swagger emerge in Myers as the game unfolded. "I kind of see why he has been struggling," said Nichols, who added that Myers' fastball was clocked between 89 and 92 mph. "He used his fastball better and he could use it more. Brett is a horse. Hopefully, he can get mentally right and get back to Philadelphia."
Originally a starter who showed terrific potential by winning 14 games in 2003 and 13 in 2005, Myers was converted to closer last year when Tom Gordon was injured. Though he pitched well in the role - he saved 21 games - he was asked by the club to start again this year when it acquired closer Brad Lidge from Houston during the offseason.
Myers agreed to do it, but performed far below expectations. He had given up 10 first-inning home runs and had been in a slide that he said reached its "breaking point" last week against Texas, when he gave up five runs on five hits and four walks in two innings.
"I was not getting results," Myers said. "I felt like I was getting stomped on. I had struggled before, but nothing like this."
Myers said "everybody has had advice" but it has reached the point of overload. He said he would like to erase the start he has had this season and work his way back to the big leagues. He added that he is not expecting to be given anything. But he had a message for his teammates in Atlanta.