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News » Paul Hagen: Struggling Moyer giving Phillies more gray hairs

Paul Hagen: Struggling Moyer giving Phillies more gray hairs

Paul Hagen: Struggling Moyer giving Phillies more gray hairs
WHEN IT all went kerflooey for Brett Myers in the first half of last season, the Phillies crafted what turned out to be an inspired solution. They convinced the headstrong righthander that a brief tour of their minor league system was just what he needed. And it turned out they were right.

It's hard to imagine that would help Jamie Moyer, though. He relies on pinpoint location and hitters down there swing at just about anything. So do the Florida Marlins, which helps explain his career domination of the Fish.

When the Phillies decided that Adam Eaton was an expensive mistake, they pushed him into the margins. Optioned him to the minors, buried him in the bullpen when he returned, left him off the postseason roster and, finally, released him this spring.

Obviously, the Phillies aren't going to do that to Moyer, in the first season of a 2-year, $13 million extension.

Sometimes when starting pitchers lose their way, they're sent to the bullpen to work things out. Forget about that. Moyer made his last relief appearance in 1996.

All right. Now that we've figured out all the solutions that aren't feasible for turning the 46-year-old lefthander around, what on Earth is left to try?

The Dodgers piled on last night, scoring seven times on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings against Moyer on their way to a 9-2 drubbing of the Phils last night at Citizens Bank Park.

"I'm concerned," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm concerned about all our pitchers. But we've got to stick with them. We signed these pitchers to pitch. Will I stay with them? Of course I will."

What makes Moyer different from Joe Blanton or Chan Ho Park or Myers or Cole Hamels, of course, is that he's 46 years old. If his age doesn't catch up to him one of these days, he'll be the first player in Baseball history to defy time indefinitely.

"Of course, that's in the back of our minds," Manuel conceded. "But I've seen him struggle before and then come out of it."

It could be dismissed as just one of those things, except that he gave up seven runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Mets his last time out.

It could be dismissed as just two of those things, except that his earned run average has ballooned to 8.15 after seven starts.

The thing is, statistically at least, Moyer has never struggled like this. His ERA has never been this high, this late, in any full season he has been in the bigs. And that covers a lot of uncharted territory.

He made his major league debut in 1986. To get some sense of how long ago that was, he pitched for the Cubs and beat Steve Carlton that day. Mike Schmidt was on the way to winning his third NL Most Valuable Player Award. The Phillies' manager was John Felske. Current Phillies first-base coach Davey Lopes started at third for the Cubs that day and broadcaster Gary Matthews was the leftfielder.

The only season that even comes close is 1999. And Moyer can only hope this year turns out as well. After his first seven starts for the Mariners, his ERA was 7.69. By the end of the year he had it down to 3.87 and had won 14 games.

Asked if he could remember a similar patch of bad road, Moyer shook his head. "No," he said. "I really haven't thought about that. I've done this more than 500 times. I don't really worry about what's behind me."

He insisted he hasn't lost confidence. "I've got to believe that if I start to doubt, it's time to go home," he said.

But, when asked what it will take to turn himself around, he just shook his head. "I don't have an answer for you," he said with a shrug. "Hard work."

What was confounding about last night was that, for the first three innings, the pitcher who the Dodgers faced was the masterful Moyer of old.

The first time through the lineup, he kept the hitters off balance. Of the first 10 batters he faced, six hit harmless grounders and three popped up to the infield.

And then, without warning, Moyer couldn't seem to get anybody out in the fourth. A couple doubles. A couple singles. A homer. A hit batter. The Dodgers batted around and scored five times.

He faced three batters in the fifth. Two reached and both scored after J.A. Happ came in to relieve him. He still hasn't pitched past the sixth inning all season. That's putting a strain on the bullpen. And remember, this is a pitcher who averaged more than 200 innings for the last 8 years.

"His command comes and goes," Manuel said. "He has a hard time getting a feel for where he wants the ball to go."

Said Moyer: "Every mistake I've made has been hit hard."

There's really not much the Phillies can do, is there? His next scheduled start is Tuesday in Cincinnati and there's every reason to believe he'll go out and try, try again.

"You could skip him a turn," Manuel said. "But I don't see how he can get right sitting. You can sit him down, but what's that going to do?"

Right now, Moyer is a question without a good answer. *

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Author:Fox Sports
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Added: May 14, 2009

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