Myers committed to having a big 2009
Phils righty dropped 35 pounds this winter to get in better shape
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Brett Myers not only dropped 35 pounds this winter, he cleared his mind.
He no longer considers himself a closer trapped in the rotation.
He is a starter.
"I got that out of my head," Myers said Sunday at Champion Stadium, where he allowed three hits and two runs in three innings in a 7-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves. "I went down to the Minors [last season] to become a starter again. I think I can be effective in either spot, but whichever one I'm doing, I have to put my full mind and heart into it."
So Myers has put his mind, heart and body into the rotation. Entering the final year of a three-year, $25.75 million contract, he has little choice. Phillies closer Brad Lidge signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension last summer, which means Myers has no chance to return to the closer's role he held in 2007.
His future with the Phillies is in the rotation.
But how long will that future be? Myers said he "absolutely" wants to return to the Phillies after this season when he becomes a free agent. And that desire to remain in Philadelphia might have motivated him, directly or directly, this offseason.
"The whole thing in the offseason was that I felt I didn't work as hard the offseason before, and the start that I got off to wasn't what I wanted it to be," Myers said. "I felt like I needed to work harder this offseason, and I did."
Myers went 10-13 with a 4.55 ERA last season, but he went 3-9 with a 5.84 ERA in his first 17 starts. He acknowledged then that he still had his heart set on closing. So the Phillies optioned him to the Minor Leagues to reprogram him and save his -- and their -- season. He went 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA in his first 11 starts back from the Minors.
"Another reason I probably lost the weight was to show the dedication to the team," Myers said. "I needed to work hard for them, because when I went to the Minors, they were definitely working hard when I wasn't there. I felt like I kind of owed it to them and the organization to show them that I screwed up last year and I'll make it up to them."
The Phillies hope that dedication continues.
"I've seen him come in good shape before," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "Now we need to see him maintain it. Consistency. A couple years ago, the one thing I asked him is to be the same guy every day. If he can do that, Brett has a chance to be very successful. He just has to stay away from that roller coaster."
And those saturated fats.
Myers, enjoying a postgame light beer in the visitor's clubhouse, joked about how he plans to maintain his improved physique.
"Making smarter choices while you drink beer, maybe," Myers said with a laugh. "Instead of pizza, you eat salad. Play for the tie, you know?"
But if Myers maintains his weight and maintains that dedication, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sees good things ahead.
"I think Myers is going to have a big season," Manuel said. "I think he's out to prove to himself and to us how much he wants to pitch and how good he is."
Myers not only is working on keeping himself in better shape, he is working on improving his changeup. Myers has thrown a changeup in the past, but he considered it his fourth pitch, well behind his fastball, curveball and cutter. He realizes that if he can improve his changeup, he will have a legitimate fourth weapon.
"There are some days where you're going to need to have that pitch," Myers said. "I think you need four good pitches, and I don't think that my changeup is necessarily good. It could be effective sometimes. In certain counts, like 0-1 with a runner on first or second, I might be reluctant to throw it. But I'm going to be here and I'm going to work on it."
Myers is working on a lot of things this spring, including getting used to his new figure.
"I felt really fat out there," Myers joked. "I really had trouble getting the ball to the outer half of the plate because my belly was getting in the way. I'll just blame it on my fat gut."
Myers actually has never looked better, and he hopes that leads to the big season many predicted for him when the Phillies drafted him in the first round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.