CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) -Brett Myers doesn't know what to do with himself between starts. He's got too much energy to sit in the dugout, chew gum and watch the game.
Myers has the mental makeup and physical skills - a sharp fastball and nasty curve - to be a dominant closer. He had success in that role last year after moving to the bullpen for the first time in his career.
But the Philadelphia Phillies need Myers in the starting rotation this season. So, the 27-year-old right-hander has to figure out how to spend his time when he isn't pitching. Not easy for a guy who hardly ever stays still.
``Closing fits my mentality,'' Myers said in an interview with The Associated Press. ``I love closing because when I went to the park, I knew there was a chance I could pitch. I want the ball in my hands with the game on the line. As a closer, I didn't worry about anything else. I didn't worry about pregame rituals. As a starter, those four days in between give you a lot of time to think about stupid stuff.''
Last year, Myers watched games from the video room the first couple innings. He began stretching in the middle of the third, joined his bullpen buddies in the fifth and waited for the call from the dugout. Now, he's back to the same boring routine.
``The first couple innings are a snooze,'' Myers said. ``There's absolutely nothing going on in that dugout. Everybody is focusing. They're not goofing off, which is the way it should be. Later in the game, action starts happening and it's easier to watch.''
A former first-round pick, Myers earned his first opening-day assignment last season. He moved to the bullpen in April because the Phillies had a surplus of starters and desperately needed relief help.
Myers eventually replaced Tom Gordon as the closer and helped the Fightin' Phils win their first NL East championship since 1993. He was 5-5 with a 2.87 ERA and 21 saves in 24 chances in the 'pen, despite missing two months with a shoulder injury. Philadelphia was 39-9 in the 48 games Myers appeared as a reliever.
Though Myers made it clear he preferred closing, the Phillies put him in the rotation after acquiring Brad Lidge from Houston in November. Myers accepted the change without complaint, a sign of his maturity. Manager Charlie Manuel chose Myers for the opening-day start over All-Star Cole Hamels early this spring, perhaps as a reward for his professionalism.
``I'm just happy to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing,'' Myers said, explaining why he didn't cause a stink.
Myers sure has come a long way since getting arrested for abuse against his wife in June 2006. The charge was dismissed later that year after Kim Myers said she didn't want her husband prosecuted for hitting her.
But no matter where he goes, someone reminds Myers of that night in Boston. He'll probably get razzed the rest of his career.
``I get booed everywhere I go,'' Myers said. ``It's always going to be brought up. I'm past it.''
Myers took a three-week leave from the team following the incident and underwent counseling with his wife to strengthen the couple's relationship.
``Brett owned to the situation and did everything he had to do in counseling,'' said Dickie Noles, the team's employee assistance professional. ``Brett loves kids. He didn't want anybody to get the message that this was OK. He wanted people to understand that it hurts that people would perceive him that way. He knew he had to turn it around.''
Myers used the media as a way to show fans he isn't a terrible person. He was available after almost every game last season, even if he pitched poorly. Myers became the go-to guy for reporters on deadline. His screaming match with one writer last August was an isolated incident, and Myers apologized for using offensive language. Fans loved him for his youthful enthusiasm, blue-collar style and his pitching, of course.
``I had some work to do to get to where people would respect me again,'' Myers said. ``I had to work on my image. I'm portrayed through the media so nobody knows me. People know me through you guys. So, I knew I had to be better with you guys. I never thought I can trust any of you. I didn't give you guys a chance.''
Myers insists he hasn't changed (media-friendly doesn't count). He's still the same guy who cracks on reporters and pranks teammates - just ask Kyle Kendrick who thought he was traded to Japan.
At home, however, it's a different Myers. He tries to be the best father for daughter Kylie and son Kolt.
``When I get in the car, I slowly transition,'' he said. ``I have to try to show the kids the right way.''
Noles credits Myers' dad, Phil, for helping Brett grow as a person.
``He's done a wonderful job of using a fatherly way of being there for his son,'' Noles said.
Phil Myers worked with many boxers in Jacksonville when Brett was a child. Brett, who boxed until he was 13, got some of his toughness and grit from being in the ring.
``It's the way I was raised,'' Myers said. ``I've always been a fighter. I've always been against the odds. Everybody has always counted me out. People always my counted family out. I always wanted to prove people wrong.''
Myers now takes aim at critics who say he isn't a true ace because he's never won 20 games or been an All-Star. Myers won 14 games in 2003. He was 13-8 with a 3.73 ERA in '05 and 12-7 with a 3.91 ERA in '06. Poor run support and blown saves cost Myers some wins both years.
``I think he's poised to have a great season,'' said Noles, a pitcher on the 1980 championship Phillies team. ``He's one of the few people I'd pay to watch play.''

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