First Three Rotation Spots Seem Strong

Jon Lieber, Brett Myers and Cory Lidle give the Phillies a decent top part of the rotation. The three are poised to do their part in making the Phillies rotation as strong as it can be. In fact, Cory Lidle believes there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Plus, we've got updates on Gavin Floyd and Scott Mathieson.

Right-hander Jon Lieber won 17 games last season for the Phillies, but he doesn't consider win totals a personal benchmark.

"I'm trying to win every game," Lieber said when asked if he considers a 20-win season a personal goal. "If it happens, it happens. A lot of seasons it depends on your teammates. To win 20 games you have to have a lot of things happen in your favor. You need a little luck."

Manager Charlie Manuel doesn't think Lieber's success has much to do with luck. He saw Lieber pitch a team-high 218 1/3 innings last season and save his best month for last, when the veteran went 5-1 in seven starts after August 31.

"He goes out there every five days and never complains," Manuel said. "He doesn't say much. He just went out there and did it."

As for his performances the past two Septembers - he went 5-0 for the Yankees in the final month of 2004 - Lieber would prefer to be known as a pitcher who is that dominant from start to finish.

"It's nice to be known as someone who does well at crunch time," he said. "Does the adrenaline kick in then? Of course. But that's not saying that I'm OK with getting my butt kicked in May and June, because I'm not."

While Lieber is the quiet type, right-hander Brett Myers doesn't mince words, so when he gave up a double, single, walk and grand slam to the first four Yankees he faced Thursday - none of whom was wearing a jersey number lower than 70 - he spoke frankly about what went awry.

"The four-seam fastball, I wasn't happy with it," Myers said. "My fastballs have no plane on them whatsoever. I can't figure it out. I'm out there thinking, 'Why in the world is the ball staying up (in the strike zone) like that?' I'll try to check the (video) tape and see if there's something I'm missing."

"It's harder because the guys they bring from the minors are straight fastball hitters. You can't sneak it by them. Even though I know they are sitting on that, I'm still going to throw it. I think I started every guy with a fastball away, and they're up there hacking like it's their bread and butter."

A rough outing by Myers might have been reason for concern a year ago, but after he went 13-8 with a 3.72 ERA last season, the coaching staff is confident that he'll figure out the problem.

"He was collapsing his backside a little," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "It's something he has had to deal with before, and he threw some fastballs that had a good angle, so I'm not too concerned."

Cory Lidle believes that anyone who thinks the Phillies' starting rotation isn't good enough to get the team into the postseason didn't pay attention to the second half of last season.

The Phillies' team ERA was under four runs for each of the final three months of the season - 3.93 in July, 3.50 in August and 3.84 in September/October.

"I think we ended strong as a rotation," said Lidle, who allowed one run in three innings in his first Grapefruit League start. "Besides (Vicente) Padilla, we have the same arms and a couple of more here in (Ryan) Franklin and (Ryan) Madson. I think the rotation is very solid, but it can always get better."

The trade that sent Padilla to the Rangers means that Lidle will be the team's number three starter.

"I've learned over the years that it doesn't matter where you pitch in the rotation," Lidle said. "You have to go out there and perform. For me, preparation is everything. You have to know how to execute pitches, and know who to throw what pitches, and where."

Lidle was supposed to start Friday's game against the Red Sox but instead needed until the third inning to begin his outing. An accident on the Sunshine Skyway turned a 2 1/2-hour bus ride from Clearwater to Fort Myers into a 5 1/2-hour odyssey that delayed the start of the game Friday by 90 minutes. Zack Segovia and Yoel Hernandez each pitched an inning to start the game, prior to Lidle entering in the third inning. Segovia gave up two hits, but escaped without giving up a run. Hernandez wasn't so lucky, giving up two hits and a walk and giving up the Red Sox first run as Boston took a 9-4 win and sank the Phillies' spring record to 5-4.

Other pitching news

Sal Fasano is giving the Phillies what they wanted when they signed him to be their backup catcher. Fasano slugged a solo homer off Reds David Weathers in Monday's Grapefruit League game and is swinging a solid bat this spring, but his work with pitchers is the best part of the story.

Fasano had an animated discussion with Gavin Floyd when the youngster started to get sloppy with his mechanics and walked two straight batters in the fourth inning. Floyd is having mechanical issues again. The Phillies' staff spent Floyd's last bullpen session attempting to fix a flaw that led to an ineffective performance against the Reds earlier in the week. Floyd is scheduled to pitch Saturday against the Astros in a game that will be televised back to Philadelphia on UPN 57.

Pitching prospect Scott Mathieson, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Canada's 8-6 win over the United States on Wednesday, pitched for Class-A Clearwater last season. Mathieson has been a starter in the minors with the Phillies, but many in the organization believe the 22-year-old right-hander will develop into a setup reliever, perhaps even a closer.

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