Garcia injury may keep Lieber in rotation
Phillies had decided to shift veteran right-hander to bullpen
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Phillies have maintained that having six starters was a fantastic problem to have, because it affords them depth in case of an injury.They proved that point on Wednesday night, when hours after announcing Jon Lieber as the newest bullpen addition, likely No. 3 starter Freddy Garcia left his start against the Blue Jays with tightness in his right bicep. Earlier in the day, Lieber spoke of his hurt feelings regarding his move to the bullpen. When manager Charlie Manuel made the announcement that Lieber, not Adam Eaton, would shift and solve the six-starter quandary, the veteran starter and former 20-game winner didn't sugarcoat his feelings. "I'm disappointed," Lieber said. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I'm going to do it for these guys in here, but I think I can still start. That was my mind-frame this offseason, to better myself. I signed here to be a starter." It's ironic that Lieber may not return to the bullpen after all, and could remain in the role which he signed a three-year, $21 million contract before the 2005 season. The veteran started the past two Opening Days and won 17 games in his first season with Philadelphia, then went 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA in 2006. Lieber finished strong over his final 11 starts, going 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA. The December acquisition of Garcia from the White Sox made Lieber the odd man out, though now he's a key insurance policy. Garcia returned to Clearwater with Triple-A trainer Shawn Fcasni to be examined by head trainer Scott Sheridan. The team doesn't expect to have any updates until Thursday morning. For now, the Phillies may scrap plans to work Lieber out of the bullpen, and they likely don't feel comfortable about dealing him -- at least until they learn more about Garcia's condition. If the initial strategy resumes, Lieber will readjust to being a regular reliever for the first time since 1996. He might still follow Jamie Moyer against the Red Sox on Thursday afternoon at Bright House Networks Field, pitching one or two innings. "We'll see how it goes," said Manuel. "He has pitched well [this spring]. It was a real tough decision. He's been a starter for 11 years. Let's see how he reacts, how it works out." The choice came down to Eaton or Lieber, because Cole Hamels, Moyer, Hamels and Garcia weren't options. Neither was likely Opening Day starter Brett Myers, who had offered to pitch in late-inning relief if necessary. Lieber, who turns 37 on April 2, was the preferred choice over Eaton to pitch in relief because has "a resilient arm, can throw strikes consistently, holds runners, and has a tough enough mind-set," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He can be very effective down there for us."
Lieber also was always the quickest to warm up before his starts, which factored into the decision."Jon probably throws as few as pitches warming up as anybody," Dubee said. The Phillies made this move now because they don't feel they'll able to acquire a reliever before Opening Day, despite their best efforts. "The market hasn't dried up," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "There just aren't pitchers out there to be had. Everybody is looking for the same thing. I don't think there's a team in baseball that feels totally comfortable with their bullpen." That doesn't make Lieber feel any better, as he wouldn't have minded finding a new home. "It's either 29 teams don't like me, or they're asking too much," said Lieber, who added that he won't ask his agent to explore a trade. "They're going to do what's best for the ballclub. My hands are tied. I'm disappointed, but I'm going to give it my best, too." His best might help the Phillies solve two problems. Not only do they have five starters now, but they also have a veteran reliever should they need one, and Lieber's ability to throw strikes will help a bullpen that has had trouble getting outs. Lieber has pitched well this spring, with a 1.50 ERA. "I had a lot to prove coming into this spring," he said. "I still think I'm a guy who can throw 200 innings. I think I can win a lot of games for this club. If somebody somewhere doesn't think I can, I wish they would tell. I still think I can help somebody." Asked what the toughest adjustment for Lieber would be in heading to the bullpen, Dubee said, "accepting it. He's been a starter for so long. He has a chance to play a vital role on our club." Maybe more vital than he originally thought.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.