Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Myers' Return: Take Two (Live)

Tonight the Phillies begin a three-game series in Washington. Brett Myers gets the first start, facing rookie Colin Balester. Myers' control was nowhere to be seen last time out against the Mets, but, on the bright side, he did not allow a home run. We'll see if he can shut down the light-hitting Nationals.

7:08: A look at the Phillies' starting lineup. Once again, Greg Dobbs gets the start at third, despite the fact that he's a terrible fielder and is far more valuable as a pinch hitter.
7:16: Balester's off to a good start, putting the Phillies down in order in the 1st. Now let's see which Brett Myers shows up.
7:22: Myers works an 0-2 counts before Willie Harris grounds out to the mound. Ronnie Belliard follows with a fly out to Geoff Jenkins. Ryan Zimmerman is watches strike three go by to end the inning. So far so good. In fact, Myers only threw one ball that entire inning.
7:25: Howard goes down swinging, but what else is new. Can't complain when the guy has 30 homers and 90+ RBIs in July. Burrell follows with a single for the first hit of the game.
7:26: Despite his best efforts, Jenkins can't ground into a double play. Felipe Lopez flips to Belliard, who tries to barehand it, but instead drops the ball and both runners are safe.
7:29: Belliard can rest easy as the Phillies fail to capitalize on his error. Dobbs pops out in foul ground and Chris Coste flies out to left.
7:32: A look at the home runs allowed leaderboard shows that Myers is now second in home runs allowed. Perhaps some celebration is in order. Let's hope no one tells Myers. Don't want him getting any ideas.
7:34: Six batters faced, six outs for Myers. He's throwing that fastball for strikes; something he couldn't do against the Mets. No strikeouts this inning, but a pair of pop-outs and a hard hit grounder were all the Nats could muster.
7:40: Chase Utley launches a home run to right, scoring Jimmy Rollins. I think it's safe to say he was due. Phillies lead 2-0.
7:49: Myers breaks up the perfect game by grazing Paul Lo Duca with the first pitch of the Nationals third inning. However, his stay on base isn't long, as Lopez grounds into a double play. Howard tags first for the first out and then Lo Duca is caught in a rundown. Lanester, of all people, gets the first hit of the game, slapping a single up the middle off a Myers fastball.
7:54: Balester's hit won't matter, as Harris pops to second after running a full count. Myers has a shutout through three innings. It's only the Nationals, but still. Baby steps.
8:00: Balester retires the Phillies in order, capped off by an impressive scoop by Zimmerman, who throws out Coste to end the inning.
8:02: Myers starts the bottom of the third by running a fastball in on Belliard and hitting him. Belliard's pain-induced cry can be heard across the stadium. Although that might just because no one is at the game.
8:04: Myers gets out of trouble yet again. Zimmerman hits into a 6-4-3 double play and Austin Kearn grounds to short for the third out. Through four innings, Myers has thrown just 39 pitches, 27 of them for strikes. I'm starting to believe...
8:07: If the Nationals wanted to retaliate for the hit batters, they missed their chance, as Myers goes down looking for the first out of the fifth.
8:08: Rollins gets a hold of one, drilling it to deep right field, but Kearn tracks it down and it's just a long out. Victorino follows with a single and here comes Utley with a chance to drive a few more runs in.
8:11: Scratch that. Utley won't get much of a chance as Victorino is gunned down trying to steal second. It's none too wise to take the bat out of a slugger's hands like that, but considering how rarely the Phillies are caught stealing, it wasn't a bad gamble. Didn't work out this time, but the Phillies still hold a two-run lead.
8:15: Jesus Flores leads off the inning with a single up the middle, right after nailing Victorino at second. That guy always seems to have an impact. This brings light to the fact that Lo Duca is playing first base, instead of Dmitri Young or Nick Johnson. Technically this makes Myers' start that much less impressive, but like I said, baby steps.
8:19: Lopez grounds up the middle and Rollins makes a great throw on the run to retire the side. Five scoreless innings for Myers on 52 pitches. He could well go the distance.
8:22: Utley comes close to hitting his second homer of the night, but doesn't quite get enough on the ball. Kearns catches it on the warning track. Howard follows with another near-home run, caught by Harris in deep left.
8:26: Burrell hits a two-out single, but Jenkins strikes out for out number three. Give credit to Balester, who's looked good tonight, only really making one mistake.
8:32: Another 1-2-3 inning for Myers, who has taken a page from Jamie Moyer's playbook, mixing speeds and getting contact outs rather than trying to strike everyone out. The result? Sixty-five pitches threw six shutout innings.
8:37: Dobbs strikes out, once again proving that he should be relegated to the bench. Granted, the Phillies are in a bit of a bind at third base with Pedro Feliz now on the DL, but wouldn't they be better served to start Eric Bruntlett?
8:43: Eric Bruntlett comes in as a defensive replacement at third base. I feel slightly responsible for complaining about Dobbs. (Does Manuel read this blog? I'm both flattered and frightened by the prospect.) It seems a shame to waste him as a pinch hitter, but with Myers pitching well and having just hit, they probably won't need more than one pinch hitter, so it's not a bad move. Meanwhile, Myers starts the inning with a walk to Zimmerman.
8:50: After getting the next two hitters to fly out, Zimmerman is tagged out at second base to end the inning. Myers catches a break, and he hasn't needed many tonight. We're now through seven, still with a 2-0 score.
8:55: Yet another near-home run, as Victorino hits one hard to deep right. Harris makes an impressive jumping catch, slamming into the wall for his trouble. Great catch, tough break for the Phillies.
9:02: After a very long Utley at-bat results in a single, Howard flies out to retire the side. It's a good thing Myers has been lights-out tonight because the offense hasn't given him much help.
9:07: Lo Duca leads off with a single up the middle and Lopez follows with a potential double play ball. Unfortunately, Utley bobbles it and all runners are safe. The tying run is on base with no outs. And here comes Manuel. That'll do it for Myers, who had an outstanding start. Looks like J.C. Romero will come in and try to preserve the win.
9:11: Ryan Langerhans bunts to the right of Romero and nearly beats it out, but Romero makes a strong throw to get him at first. That advances the runners, putting the tying run in scoring position.
9:14: Harris breaks up the shutout, chopping a grounder to third. Christian Guzman (running for Lo Duca) scores as Bruntlett fires to first. Desptie Bruntlett's efforts to hold him, Lopez takes third on the throw. With that, Manuel goes to Chad Durbin who will face Belliard with two outs and the tying run on third.
9:18: Durbin does his part, getting Belliard to ground out to second, and the Phillies escape...for now. The heart of the Nationals' order is due up in the ninth. Fortunately for the Phillies, that means Zimmerman, Kearns, and Flores. That doesn't sound like a very healthy heart to me.
9:26: After Joel Hanrahan strikes out Burrell and Jenkins, Bruntlett laces a single into left field. Now Coste gets a chance to give the Phillies a little insurance with two outs.
9:28: So much for that. Coste grounds to first, ending the inning, and in comes Brad Lidge with a one-run lead. Come on, Brad, do it for Brett! He deserves it (for once).
9:33: Lidge is looking like...well, himself. He gets Zimmerman to ground to third for the first out.
9:36: Kearns works a full count, but it's all for naught as he fouls out on the first base side. Howard runs it down and the Phillies are one out away from Myers' fourth win of the season.
9:38: And there it is. Flores flies out to right to end the game. Lidge has his 25th save and Myers his 4th win. Final score: 2-1 Phillies.

It's a little concerning that the Phillies could only muster two runs off the Nationals, but first things first: Brett Myers had a great outing, pitching into the eighth inning and allowing just one (unearned) run. He only recorded two strikeouts, but he did a tremendous job of keeping hitters off-balance and making them beat themselves with pop-ups and routine ground-outs. This was one of his best starts of the season (which isn't saying much, I know) and it might be his most important start. Yes, it was against the hapless Nationals, who didn't even have all of their top hitters available, but Myers needed a dominant outing to get his confidence back up.

The question now is: Is this the Brett Myers we'll see from now on, or was it just luck combined with ineptitude on Washington's part? There's no way to tell at this point, but this was a very encouraging outing, and not just because of the end result. Myers was extremely efficient, throwing only 88 pitches through seven innings and two batters in the eighth, and he pounded the strike zone. Sixty-three of his 88 pitches were strikes; a stark contrast to last week's start against the Mets when he threw only 49 strikes out of 95 pitches.

Myers had thrown his share of strikes earlier in the season, but he threw a few too many, as a lot of them landed in the outfield bleachers. One could argue that a better hitting team would have made Myers pay for throwing as many strikes as he did tonight. While that may be true, the Nationals didn't hit many balls hard at all. While the Phillies had at least three hard hit outs, caught at or near the warning track, not one Phillies outfielder had to step on the warning track all night. In fact, the Nationals didn't have one extra-base hit.

Ultimately, this was just one start and Myers could struggle again next time out, but suffice it to say, this was a very encouraging outing and bodes well for future success. We'll just have to wait and see, but for now, I'll gladly take the win.

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