Phillies' top spring priority? Pitching

Phillies' top spring priority? Pitching

PHILADELPHIA -- Scoring runs won't be an issue for a Phillies team that crossed the plate a National League-best 892 times in 2007, 32 more times than second-place Colorado.

Giving them up is the concern for the club that surrendered 821 runs, the fifth-highest total in the NL, behind Florida, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis.

"We would like to improve on our pitching," assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said repeatedly this winter. "That's been the priority."

The quest to improve on a pitching staff that compiled a 4.73 ERA, or fourth-worst in the NL, did not net Johan Santana, Erik Bedard, Dan Haren or Hiroki Kuroda. Underwhelmed by the class of free-agent starters, the Phillies got creative by acquiring closer Brad Lidge, thus "adding" a starter in Brett Myers.

While disappointed, Myers, who had grown fond of the closer role, accepted the rotation return for the good of the team, even channeling the mantra of the 1993 team that advanced to the World Series.

"Like the 1993 Phillies said, 'Whatever it takes,'" said Myers, who will form a 1-2 punch with ace Cole Hamels. "I loved [closing] and would love to do it again someday in Philadelphia. At the same time, I'm excited to be back in the rotation. What's really going to stink is those four days between starts when I have nothing to do. I'll be bored out of my mind. I may have to go out to the bullpen and just sit there."

Myers will be counted on to approach the 200-inning level he reached in the previous two seasons before shifting to the bullpen. His durability is a necessity for a staff that saw just one member of its Opening Day rotation -- 45-year-old Jamie Moyer -- not miss a start.

Freddy Garcia and Jon Lieber both saw their seasons end in June, leading to the successful early arrival of Kyle Kendrick and a July trade for Kyle Lohse. Hamels missed a month with an inflamed left elbow, but returned for the final two weeks of the season. Adam Eaton missed time with a right shoulder injury, but had struggled long before that.

Sure, the Phillies hope Kendrick can build on his 10-win rookie campaign and Moyer can coax another year out of his arm, but so much rides on Hamels and Myers at the top.

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"It's not like Brett has never started before," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's been a starter his whole career until we moved him to the bullpen out of necessity. He's had a lot of success starting, and I think he'll be just as successful this season for us. We're expecting a lot of great things from Myers and Cole Hamels and all the starters."

As important as Myers is to the rotation, Ryan Madson represents the linchpin of the bullpen. His season-ending right shoulder injury, sustained on July 29, forced Manuel to overwork veterans Tom Gordon, J.C. Romero and Myers in relief down the stretch. Manuel needs the rubber-armed Madson for his ability to pitch frequently and for multiple innings, allowing Manuel to keep his other relievers fresh.

Little of this will matter if Lidge struggles in his first season with the Phillies. Having worn out his welcome in Houston, the closer was secured by Philadelphia and will be expected to anchor the 'pen. The hard-throwing righty made a career-low 66 appearances last season, and likely will see a spike in 2008.

"That's fine," he said. "It's a very fortunate situation for me to have been traded here. I feel lucky that the team I was traded to was on the upswing, a team that can not just get to a World Series, but win a World Series."

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