If everything goes perfectly, Lieber could return in mid-to-late September, but that's a long shot.
"It's going to be a while, no matter how you look at it," said Lieber, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list. "I have no clue. I knew it was a little bit more than a tweak, but I didn't think it would be this bad."
No one thought that on June 20, when Lieber stood in the bowels of Jacobs Field and spoke of not missing a start. He said he felt a pop when, after giving up a single to Casey Blake, he moved to back up home plate, but hoped for the best.
To be safe, the Phillies pushed him back to June 27, and he was to test the foot on Sunday. Still sore on Saturday, the team scheduled a precautionary MRI for Sunday morning.
The medical diagnosis of avulsion to the peroneus longus tendon translates to a season-ending injury, and it is significantly different than the previously-thought right ankle strain.
Lieber's injury devastates an already decimated pitching staff that has lost Freddy Garcia, Tom
Gordon, Brett Myers and Francisco Rosario this season. A rotation that was six deep coming out of Spring Training is down to three. The big four of Myers, Lieber, Gordon and Garcia represent a combined $29.5 million in salary, or roughly 31 percent of the payroll.
"I've been on a team in Seattle where our rotation's five guys made every start," Jamie Moyer said. "You don't see that happen too often. It's unfortunate that we have to deal with this. Hopefully, we can keep it together."
The how is the problem. After Cole Hamels starts on Sunday, the Phillies will go with Kyle
Kendrick, Moyer and Adam Eaton in the Tuesday-through-Thursday series against the Reds, then
Hamels for one game of Friday's doubleheader against the Mets.
The Phillies will need a starter for the other game of that twin bill, as well as one for Saturday. Candidates include 20-year-old Carlos Carrasco (recently called up to Double-A), J.A. Happ (recently activated from a two-week stint on the disabled list) and J.D. Durbin. Assistant general manager Ruben Amaro ruled out Clay Condrey, who was recalled to take Lieber's spot on the roster.
Though a trade is possible, Amaro said the starters in the short term will likely be filled internally. A four-man rotation is likely out, too, though Moyer volunteered. Also out is reliever Antonio Alfonseca, who jokingly offered to return to his Minor League roots.
Beyond this week, Amaro said Myers will remain in the bullpen once he returns from the disabled list.
"I don't know what our plans are," Moyer said. "With that doubleheader in there, it really
throws a wrench into the works. I'm glad I'm not involved in those decisions. They're going to do what's best for the team. We'll have to get through it."
So will Lieber, who began the season in the bullpen and on the disabled list with an oblique strain, then moved back into the rotation. He said he wasn't yet braced for his season's abrupt ending. He was already having a rough month, going 1-3 with a 6.66 ERA in June, and allowing seven runs in 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday was his worst effort of the year.
"I don't want to think along those lines," said Lieber, a free agent after the season. "I just want to wait and see what's going to be said Monday. I've never had any problems or anything of this magnitude."
"Unfortunately, it's part of the game," Amaro said. "You can't predict injury. Everybody goes through it, and we'll deal with it. Hopefully, we'll have guys step up and do a job like Kendrick has done."