Astros turn to Myers to be their closer
Veteran right-hander saved 21 games for Phillies in 2007
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- When veteran starting pitcher Brett Myers was approached by Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail a few weeks ago to gauge his interest in returning to closer -- a role he last held five years ago with the Phillies -- Myers was immediately intrigued.
"I wasn't going to shoot it down," he said. "I had to do some thinking to see if I could do it, and I feel I can."
Myers signed off on the idea late Monday after consulting with his family and trusting his 31-year-old body could hold up to the demands of the job, and Astros manager Brad Mills announced Tuesday he was moving Myers into the closer role and out of the rotation.
"I think it's exciting for everybody," said Mills, whose team converted only 50 percent (25 of 50) of its save chances last year. "He's a guy that's done it before, and he's got the desire, he's got the ability and he's got the competitive nature to be able to do that. We're looking forward to it."
Myers, a starter for all but one of his 10 seasons in the Major Leagues, began 2007 as the Phillies' Opening Day starter before being moved to closer three starts into the season. In 48 relief appearances, he went 5-5 with 21 saves and a 2.87 ERA, but was shifted back to the rotation after Philadelphia acquired Brad Lidge prior to the 2008 season.
"I wouldn't accept it if I didn't think I could do it, but it's going to be a challenge for me because it's something different," he said. "It's like a position change for me. It's like taking a first baseman and moving him to third. I'm going to have to work a little harder to get my arm in shape to throw 20 or 25 pitches a night. Hopefully, it will be good for the team and good for the organization."
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said that Myers' contract, which includes a vesting option for 2013, was reworked. His option will vest for reaching a certain number of games finished instead of starts.
The move punches a huge hole in the Astros' rotation. Myers has made 66 starts in his two years with Houston, going 21-22 with a 3.79 ERA in 439 2/3 innings -- the fifth-highest innings total in the National League in that span.
The Astros have no shortage of candidates to fill Myers' spot in the rotation after signing Livan Hernandez and Zach Duke to Minor League contracts this winter. Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris and J.A. Happ are likely to be in the rotation when the season starts, with youngsters Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell, Henry Sosa and Kyle Weiland in the mix for the other spots.
"From my standpoint, we have some depth in the rotation between Duke, Livan, Happ, Sosa and Harrell and all the young guys," Luhnow said. "We feel like we're in pretty good shape there and have some choices. We felt like we were a little exposed in the bullpen, and having a guy who's been successful in that role and who's got the mentality and stuff to do well takes pressure off Brandon Lyon coming off an injury and doesn't put pressure on young kids like David Carpenter and Wilton Lopez."
Hernandez, who signed a non-roster contract with the Astros on Jan. 31, is likely to make the club and take Myers' spot as the veteran who has the ability to eat innings. He's made at least 30 starts in 13 seasons and has pitched at least 200 innings 10 times.
Mills stopped short of saying Hernandez had a rotation spot locked up.
"It's too early, but at the same time you look back at his history of throwing innings, and that's big," he said. "Let's wait and see how everything transpires."
Myers' velocity isn't what it used to be when he broke into the Majors in 2002 -- or even five years ago -- but he believes he'll be able to bring enough heat and energy in the ninth inning to handle the assignment.
"Just a lot of thought processes were going through my mind to see if I could have my fastball back and stuff like that," he said. "It's good to kind of start over right now, because I've never had the opportunity coming right out of Spring Training saying I'm going to be a reliever or a closer. I've always been a starter. This is going to be letting it go every time I get out there. I think my body should be able to bounce back good enough to compete."
The Astros began last year with Lyon as closer, but he was injured a month into the season and wound up having surgery to repair the detachment of his right biceps tendon and to also mend a tear in his labrum. Mark Melancon closed for most of the rest of the season, but he was traded to the Red Sox during the offseason for Weiland and shortstop Jed Lowrie.
That left Myers as the best available option.
"I enjoyed doing it in '07 because you had a chance to play every day," Myers said. "I get a little stir crazy waiting four days in between starts. Getting a chance to get that adrenaline going every time that phone rings [in the bullpen], it's definitely fun. You have to stay healthy doing it, though."
Unlike when he was moved to the closer role early in the 2007 season, Myers will have five weeks of Spring Training to get himself ready for the rigors of closing.
"It's just a lot of thinking I had to do before I made the decision, trying to find out if I could handle it," he said. "I hadn't closed in five years. I wanted to throw a couple [rounds of batting practice] and back-to-backs and see if I could work myself into shape. Also, I wanted to get it done fast. I wanted to have at least five weeks of Spring Training to work on becoming a closer. I'm ready for the challenge."