Bob Ford | For Phils, one source of stability on the hill

Posted: March 23, 2007

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It isn't that easy to see from beyond the left-field wall, where Frenchy's Tiki Bar rides the crest of the stands like a rocking, sweltering party boat, but there is trouble in the stiff offshore breeze that is smacking the Phillies in their collective faces.

Patrons line up four- and five-deep as they celebrate spring training from the hazy distance beneath the thatched roof, and it would be nice to report that the Phillies have similar depth among their pitching-staff candidates at the moment. That is not the case, however, and, perhaps too soon, there will be chilly, coffee-sipping days in which pitching determines whether the Phils get off to a good start or sentence themselves to another torturous comeback effort this season.

The bullpen, to be blunt, is a mess, and that's not even counting closer Tom Gordon, who has been used here as if he's made of confectioner's sugar. The rotation - which counted six starters at the beginning of the week - was down to four yesterday, with Freddy Garcia shelved at least temporarily by a sore arm and Jon Lieber demoted to a relief role.

Garcia could be back soon. Or Lieber could be starting again soon. And keep hope alive as star-crossed Adam Eaton searches once again for the first 200-inning season of his career.

In a world of such uncertainty, it's nice to have something on which to depend. For the Phillies, as unexciting as it might seem at times, that something is Jamie Moyer, the 44-year-old from Montgomery County who has made a living by getting batters out with pitches that can't get batters out. Scouts time his fastball with a calendar instead of a radar gun, but Moyer knows those aren't the numbers that matter.

"It amazes me," manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday. "He keeps you in the game. If he's pitching, we will have a chance to win the game. He moves the ball around. He'll come inside with an 82-mile-per-hour fastball. Jams guys, gets dribblers down to third base. Absolutely amazes me. You know what it is that sets him apart? He has more patience than the hitter."

Yesterday was not a typical outing for Moyer as the Phillies and Red Sox played to a 4-4 tie that was called after 10 innings. The lefthander struck out seven batters in his five innings, which rarely happens, but his act does tend to make hitters overanxious. He also gave up all the Boston runs, inflating an earned run average that was 2.51 after his four previous starts.

The runs came on a pair of poor pitches, a floater to Wily Mo Peña leading off the second inning that knocked some thatch from the Tiki Bar roof, and another to Kevin Youkilis with two runners aboard in the third that cleared the joint entirely, thus saving several customers who would have never seen it coming.

"Couple of bad pitches. What are you going to do?" Moyer said with a shrug. "You're here to get your work done [in spring training]. But to me it's way more than getting your work done. You want to hit locations. You want to manage what you do, just like in the season. I don't think you can walk through spring training and just throw."

How Moyer goes about his work is a methodical lesson available for anyone in the clubhouse to study. He plays the game, but not without thinking it through and attacking it with a plan. A week or so ago, pitching coach Rich Dubee asked him to take a few minutes and address the minor-league pitchers on the art of their position. Moyer talked to them for an hour and a half.

"I can learn something from him every day," Manuel said. "The other day, he told me to look at this pitcher on the other team and how he was standing on the rubber. He would watch where the guy put his foot and how he picked up his leg and he told me every pitch he was going to throw. He studies the game inside and out."

You don't last until the age of 44 in a major-league uniform, with only average velocity in your arm, unless you can stay one chapter ahead of the rest of the class.

"He just has a feel for pitching," Dubee said. "Will he pitch a gem every night? I doubt it. But he will be well-prepared every night."

Moyer has made a career of being prepared. It is why he still has a career.

"You never know what's going to happen tomorrow," Moyer said. "When I was in Boston [in 1996], I felt like I was the sixth man in a five-man rotation and the seventh man in a six-man bullpen. I focused on what I needed to do when I got an opportunity."

The opportunity came, Moyer won some games, and he earned a trade to Seattle, where he pitched for more than a decade before joining the Phillies. Now he prepares just to keep the opportunity going.

"I don't expect to be here and not contribute," Moyer said. "If I'm not, it's time to go home."

That time hasn't arrived yet, and as the Phillies race toward a certain end to an uncertain spring, the old man of the clubhouse is, as always, an island of calm in waters that are getting a little choppy.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

 

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