Myers officially gets Opening Day nod

Myers officially gets Opening Day nod

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Brett Myers bounded from the mound at Richie Ashburn Field, as 50 or so fans greeted him with intermittent applause.

Away from the main stage of Bright House Networks Field -- where his teammates faced Atlanta -- Myers toiled for six-plus innings against Toronto's Triple-A team. He opposed A.J. Burnett, making for quite a pitching matchup on an otherwise uneventful day.

Myers will see the Braves soon enough -- on Opening Day in Philadelphia, to be exact.

After Friday's game, manager Charlie Manuel made official what the calendar has known for weeks -- that Myers will open the Phillies' regular season against John Smoltz.

"He's the guy I should start," Manuel said. "He deserves this."

Myers joins the likes of Chris Carpenter, Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, Brandon Webb, John Smoltz, Dontrelle Willis, Curt Schilling, Barry Zito and Tom Glavine as the Opening Day starter and projected ace of their respective staff. And he's ready.

"I've worked hard to make it to the big leagues," Myers said. "I just have to keep working to stay where I am. It means a lot [to start Opening Day]. It would be nice to be categorized with Smoltz and all those [No. 1] guys, but I think any of our guys can be put in that spot and perform."

While maintaining that the "ace of the day" is whoever pitches on a given day, there's no mistaking the symbolism of this announcement. Coming off a season in which he went 12-7 with a 3.91 ERA, the 26-year-old wasn't the clear decision for Manuel, despite his status as the longest-tenured Phillie in the rotation -- albeit much less Major League experience than any starter in the rotation other than Cole Hamels.

Manuel could've gone with 44-year-old Jamie Moyer (four Opening Days), Freddy Garcia (three) or Jon Lieber (seven) -- in fact, Moyer and Garcia had combined to start the previous seven Opening Days for the Mariners -- but Myers became a realistic choice, since Garcia might start the season on the disabled list with right biceps soreness and Lieber has been moved to the bullpen.

Myers has been lined up to pitch April 2 since Grapefruit League games began, and is having an impressive spring. He made his penultimate start of the spring Friday, surrendering two homers to infielder Russ Adams, and leaving before facing Adams for the third time (He had reached his pitch count).

Before Manuel began considering an Opening Day starter, he had a few things to express to Myers, and made a special trip to Jacksonville, Fla., to spend time with his ace. The meeting was a frank exchange of ideas, and not always pleasant.

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Manuel didn't relate what things Myers got off his chest, but didn't shy away from his contribution. Manuel wanted to see was his right-hander in better shape -- and Myers responded by shedding 32 pounds over the winter, to 218 -- and wanted to ensure Myers understood what he meant to the team's chances of capturing the National League East.

"The message [I wanted to send was] that we want to win and he's a big part of it, and I think it's time for him to step up and be the pitcher we think he can be," Manuel said. "There were some things he didn't like and he told me. I've seen him mature over the past two years. He's still growing, but he's getting to where we want him to be -- from a maturity standpoint -- as a person and pitching.

"I told him he had to win 16, 20 games for us [to be a contender]. If he can be the caliber of pitcher that I think he is, and take us deep in the games, that's where he should land. He and I had a real good talk."

The talking is over. Myers is installed as the team's No. 1 pitcher. Despite his contention that he's one of five men capable of shutting down a team on a given day, he'll be the only guy with a chance to make the Phillies 1-0. Twenty wins would be nice, but Myers would be just as happy if the Phillies win the games he starts, whether he gets the victory or not.

"That's every starter's goal -- 20 wins," he said. "Of course, you have to have some luck there. You have to have consistent starts. As soon as you're able to do that, 20 wins are right around the corner."

Before he can get to 20, he must get to one, and Opening Day is an honor.

"I got a chance to do it once," said Tom Gordon, who started Opening Day for the Red Sox in 1997 -- his final year as a starter. "You never forget it, ever. It's your best against their best; there's nothing like it. It's a playoff atmosphere. I don't care where you play, it's memorable. You want to be your best on that day."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.