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Notes: Bullpen exceeds expectations

Notes: Bullpen exceeds expectations

PHILADELPHIA -- All anyone heard this spring was how porous the Phillies bullpen was supposed to be and how their starting rotation was supposed to be a strength. The last two weeks have actually borne the opposite results. Philadelphia's bullpen has been solvent, while Phils starters have struggled as they head into the regular season.

Prior to Saturday's last exhibition game, the Phils bullpen has posted a collective 2.25 ERA (15 earned runs over 60 innings pitched).

"I hope it stays that way," said Matt Smith, who threw an inning of shutout relief against the Red Sox in the second game of the On-Deck Series on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. "You hear what's said, but I know the guys in the pen don't get caught up with that stuff. I think what's important is that we all have a belief in each other. That's what you want out of your 'pen."

Sometimes what gets lost in discussions about the bullpen's prospects this season is the fantastic year Geoff Geary had in 2006. The diminutive right-hander proved to be more than competent, going 7-1 with a 2.96 ERA over 91 1/3 innings. He notched career highs in strikeouts (60) and appearances (81) and finished tied for second among National League relievers in innings pitched and third in winning percentage (87%).

"I see [the bullpen criticism] as someone [having] to tell a story," Geary said. "They have to look for somewhere for flaws, that's what I think that is.

"We're a tight-knit unit that believes in itself. I know when I hand the ball to someone else out of our pen [that] the game is in good hands. That's all you can really ask of your teammates. I think our bullpen is just as strong as any bullpen going into this season. We're all positive and antsy about this year. This is all about a challenge. And I love a challenge."

Brett and breakfast: Phillies Opening Day starter Brett Myers addressed the media at Citizens Bank Park before Saturday's On-Deck Series finale with Boston. The young veteran spoke about feeling comfortable on the mound during Spring Training, how his offseason conditioning program has helped him recover more quicly between starts and how he'll have to keep his adrenaline flow under control in his first Opening Day start before an anticipated sellout crowd.

"A lot of it has to do with the fans, they motivate you enough," said Myers, who finished 12-7 last season with a 3.91 ERA. "It's good that the fans are behind you until you [mess] up, but everyone needs a kick in the [rear end]. It's definitely an honor to represent the team on the first day and go out and start the season right at 1-0. I'm learning every day, and it will definitely be a learning experience to handle that kind of adrenaline."

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Myers also addressed the importance of the team getting off to a good start in April. The Phillies have 20 games against National League East rivals, starting with the first nine against division opponents Atlanta, Florida and the defending NL East champ New York Mets.

"This April is the most important in a while because we are playing the division guys, and ultimately it'll be us chasing them or them chasing us," Myers said. "I don't know how many games we could win this year, but if everyone stays healthy, we could win 90-95 games. I want other teams to be intimidated by our staff. To be successful, you have to make the opposing batter feel a little uncomfortable."

Myers once said he might be so amped to start an Opening Day, he'd throw the ball over the backstop.

"I still might do that," Myers said with a laugh.

Coming up: On Monday, the Phils are ready to begin a 2007 season filled with high expectations. After three straight second-place finishes in the NL East, Philadelphia will be looking to contend for the division title. In their opener, the Phillies will play host to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Right-hander Brett Myers will be making his first Opening Day start for the Phillies, as the Braves counter with veteran John Smoltz, who has gone 0-3 with a 7.71 ERA in his previous three Opening Day starts. Smoltz is 13-12 with a 3.53 ERA in his career against the Phillies and 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA in 34 1/3 innings at Citizens Bank Park. Myers was 1-1 against the Braves last year, with a 3.55 ERA.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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