Lieber might start season in Phillies' bullpen

Updated: March 22, 2007, 9:55 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ending weeks of speculation, Jon Lieber was told on Wednesday that he's going to the bullpen because the Philadelphia Phillies have six starters.

Starting Pitcher
Philadelphia Phillies

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L BB K ERA
27 9 11 24 100 4.93

"I'm disappointed," Lieber said Wednesday. "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't. I think I can still start."

He might still get a chance. Newly acquired right-hander Freddy Garcia left Wednesday night's game against the Toronto Blue Jays after the first inning because of stiffness in his right biceps.

Garcia, picked up in an offseason trade with the Chicago White Sox, was to be examined by the Phillies medical staff on Thursday, team spokesman Larry Shenk said.

The two-time All-Star allowed five hits, including a two-run home run by Troy Glaus, in the first inning and did not come out for the second against the Blue Jays. He has had concerns regarding decreased velocity this spring.

"He wasn't throwing a whole lot up there," manager Charlie Manuel said after the Phillies' 10-6 win. "I figured that something might be wrong."

A former 20-game winner with the Chicago Cubs and the Opening Day starter in each of his two seasons in Philadelphia, Lieber became the odd man out when the Phillies re-signed Jamie Moyer, signed free agent Adam Eaton and traded for Garcia.

Lieber, who turns 37 on April 2, has been mentioned in trade rumors for months. But general manager Pat Gillick hasn't found the right deal and isn't willing to unload Lieber for the sake of making room in the rotation. The Phillies have sought a late-inning reliever, but the asking price may be too high.

"They're going to do what's best for the club," Lieber said. "My hands are tied. I'm disappointed, but I'm going to give it my best."

Lieber was 17-13 with a 4.20 ERA for the Phillies in 2005 but struggled last season. He missed time with a groin injury and finished 9-11 with a 4.93 ERA in 27 games. Lieber has pitched well this spring, posting a 1.50 ERA.

"It was a real tough decision," manager Charlie Manuel said early Wednesday.

Lieber is scheduled to earn $7.5 million this season in the final year of a $21 million, three-year contract. For now, he provides insurance should any of the top five starters go down. With Brett Myers, Cole Hamels and Garcia anchoring the rotation, the Phillies have a formidable staff.

"I still think I'm a guy who can throw 200 innings," Lieber said. "I think I can win a lot of games for this club. I still think I can help somebody."

Lieber is 126-115 with a 4.26 ERA in 361 career games -- 314 starts -- with four teams. He hasn't pitched out of the bullpen since 1996 with the Pirates except for one relief appearance in 1997.

Lieber missed the entire 2003 season after having elbow ligament-replacement surgery, but revived his career with the Yankees in 2004, going 14-8 with a 4.33 ERA and pitching well in the playoffs.

In 7 2/3 innings this spring, Garcia has a 9.39 ERA. He has allowed 10 hits, eight runs, all earned, walked five and struck out two.

The Phillies sent minor-leaguers Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd to the White Sox in exchange for Garcia, who has a regular-season record of 117-71 over eight years. His only stint on the disabled list came seven years ago when he broke a leg. Since then he has averaged 33 starts and 220 innings per season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.