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Jim Salisbury: Hurler needs positive outing

NEW YORK - He had spent most of the month in Allentown, Reading, and Viera, Fla., nice towns all, but not places you want to be throwing baseballs after you've been in the big leagues for more than five seasons.

NEW YORK - He had spent most of the month in Allentown, Reading, and Viera, Fla., nice towns all, but not places you want to be throwing baseballs after you've been in the big leagues for more than five seasons.

Brett Myers earned his way to the minor leagues by pitching poorly. He deserved to be there, but with that amount of service time could have vetoed the assignment.

In his heart, Myers knew he had to follow the Phillies' wishes and go to the minors. It was for his good, and his team's. He was not going back to the closer's role, not with the way Brad Lidge was dominating hitters, and besides, how could the Phillies have put him anywhere near the back end of the bullpen given the way he had been pitching?

Myers had to go to the minors and try to get right. He had to address mechanical issues, work on locating his fastball, and improve his overall concentration, focus and confidence.

Myers didn't have to turn himself into the second coming of Curt Schilling. But he had to become a reliable major-league starter again, not one who lugged around an ERA close to 6.00, not one who seldom gave his team a chance to win. (The Phils were 4-13 in his first 17 starts.)

So, how did Project Remedy work?

That question can't be answered yet. Baseball is a long-haul sport, and players cannot be fully judged on five-inning snapshots.

Myers has started two opening days for the Phillies.

You could say last night was his third.

It was the latest fresh start in a career that has had a few, and, depending on how these next two-plus months go, it might be his last with the Phillies.

The righthander, confused and demoralized after last pitching for the Phils on June 27 - he was pummeled for five runs in two innings by the Texas Rangers - rejoined the Phillies last night in the heat of a pennant race, under the bright lights of Shea Stadium, against a club that knew about his struggles and hoped to renew them.

It was not an exemplary performance for Myers, not one that inspired confidence. But it wasn't one that made you, or Phillies management, want to give up on him, either.

"I felt 10 times better," said Myers, comparing his current self to the one who had gone to the minors earlier this month.

He pitched five innings and allowed three runs. His control was awful. He issued five walks, and three of them became runs.

Despite his struggles, Myers left with the score tied, 3-3. Reliever Ryan Madson gave up a three-run homer in the sixth, helping the Mets record a 6-3 win that pulled them back into a first-place tie with the Phils entering today's series finale.

Myers was the big subplot to this series. He is not the Phillies' best pitcher, as two opening-day assignments might suggest, but he's the best they've got every fifth day. Everyone was eager to see what he'd bring last night.

What Myers seemed to bring was nervousness, though he shot that down. He knew the eyes of Phillieland were on him. He admitted to being excited in the first inning, maybe a little too much. He walked four consecutive batters in the inning and allowed two runs before getting the final two outs. In all, he threw a ridiculous total of 29 pitches in the first inning, and just nine were strikes. For the game, he threw 95 - way too many for five innings - and just 49 were strikes.

Myers said he had trouble throwing his four-seam fastball for strikes. He said the mound felt flat, and that hurt his ability to get on top of the pitch.

Myers closed with smooth innings in the fourth and fifth, an encouraging sign because the Mets were well aware of his confidence problems and were ready to pounce on his vulnerability. They may have gotten to Myers here and there - much of it was the pitcher's fault - but they didn't tear him apart.

That was a good sign.

"I don't take anything bad from this start, except for the first inning," Myers said. "I felt conditioned to pitch longer, but [manager Charlie Manuel] wanted me to leave on a good note. After the way the fifth inning went, I felt I was just getting some momentum."

Myers should be less excited in his next start, Tuesday at Washington. The anxiety that had to come with his personal opening day is over. His command and his results should be better the next time out, and they need to be.

Because while it's that true you can't judge the reconstruction of Brett Myers in just five innings, it's also true that the Phillies can't afford to spend the next month being patient with him. That phase of Project Remedy is over. Now it's time to show something.