GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Brett Myers is back where he belongs. That’s what the Indians are banking on.
Last year, Myers was asked (told?) by the Houston Astros to abandon what he had done virtually his entire career and move to the bullpen. He still wonders why.
“You’ll have to call them,” Myers said after starting against the Cincinnati Reds Saturday in a 13-10 Tribe win. “I still don’t know why. They asked me to do it, and I didn’t want to fight them about it. It was one of those things where you do what’s best for the team.”
In 35 appearances, Myers posted an 0-4 record but saved 19 games and compiled a 3.52 ERA. Then he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, who didn’t need a closer. He made 35 appearances for the White Sox, logging a 3.12 ERA with three saves.
“I only really relieved one year before that, in 2007, but that was five years ago,” Myers said. “It’s not the same after five years. I only wish it could have been more fun [in 2012].”
The Philadelphia Phillies were his employers five years earlier, when he saved 21 games in 24 chances and posted a 4.33 ERA, striking out 83 in 68⅔ innings.
Now 32, Myers has not lost his desire to be a starter. So when the Tribe offered him a one-year contract for $8 million plus an option season for an additional $8 million, he said yes.
Immediately, General Manager Chris Antonetti announced that Myers was part of the rotation. He was not required to win a job. No need to prove himself in a rotation that was continually on the brink of disaster in 2012.
Myers was seen as a stabilizing influence, not just because he was a veteran, but because he was seen as Mr. Reliable, a pitcher who would throw 200 innings or close to it and routinely keep the team in games. He was taking the role that Derek Lowe filled last season.
Lowe pitched spectacularly for awhile, but when he turned 39 in June, he suddenly lost his effectiveness. Whether his birthday had anything to do with his decline is questionable, but Lowe was let go around midseason.
Myers is being asked to do what Lowe was supposed to do, but he is seven years younger. Myers is not required to dominate hitters with a fastball in the mid to high 90s or a sinker that explodes down and away from right-handed batters. That is the job of Ublado Jimenez and Justin Masterson, but they are coming off disappointing seasons, and it’s impossible to gauge their future.
“I want to be able to go out and control the game,” Myers said, knowing exactly what his bosses expect from him.
Manager Terry Francona is counting on Myers’ arm and his determination to stay the course he has followed his entire career.
“One thing Myers has prided himself in is throwing six innings, at least,” Francona said. “We’re hoping that a year in the bullpen helps him, because he didn’t spend as many bullets last season.”
Myers empathizes with his lodge brothers in the relief corps.
“I’ve always tried to save the bullpen,” he said. “Those guys work seven days a week.”
After throwing one or two innings at a time as a reliever, there might be a question of adapting to going six or seven innings as a starter, but Myers doesn’t think so.
“I’ve started my whole career, so this is nothing new,” he said. “It’s all pitching, it’s all getting people out.”
In his first start of the spring, Myers pitched two innings, gave up two runs (one earned) on three hits and a walk. He threw 21 pitches, 14 strikes.
He struggled through the first inning, when he allowed two singles (one never left the infield), hit a batter and walked in a run.
“I was trying to work on my fastball location and my change-up,” he said. “The change-up is my fourth pitch and sometimes takes longer to come around.
“I felt a little sluggish in the first inning, like I hadn’t been out there in awhile. But it’s only been a couple of days [since he threw batting practice].”
When Myers hit Donald Lutz in the foot, the Reds’ left fielder seemed annoyed, and Myers looked at the umpire.
“I said, ‘Doesn’t a guy have to make an effort to get out of the way? He didn’t move,’ ” Myers said. “I wouldn’t like to get hit, either, but it was a change-up. If I was trying to hit him, I wouldn’t throw a change-up.”
Good or bad, whatever transpires during a pitcher’s first spring training start usually fades from memory by the end of March and becomes totally irrelevant by mid-April. But today, it seems all-important.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.