PHILADELPHIA -- Consider the change in Brett Myers, the pitcher.
When Myers made the Astros' Opening Day start last Friday in Citizens Bank Park -- where he handled the same duties for the Phillies three times before -- he was back in a familiar place, but there was little familiar about him.
"He's definitely not the Brett from when he was here," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said.
In 2007's opener he induced 15 swings and misses and got nine strikeouts. It was a promising start to what became an erratic season in which he was later demoted to the bullpen before taking over as the Phillies' closer, all while utilizing a fastball that averaged 92 miles an hour.
In this year's opener his fastball never even reached 90 mph, and his only swing-and-miss came on the 80th pitch of a start in which he didn't strike anybody out. Yet in other ways Myers has become Mr. Consistency. He began last season by making 32 consecutive starts of at least six innings -- he finished with a 14-8 record and 3.14 ERA in a career-high 223 2/3 innings in 33 starts -- and went at least that deep again in his first two starts of this season as well.
"It's the evolution of a really, really hardthrower [who was] always in overdrive-type approach tapering down and still having that killer mentality but finding more efficient ways to get through it," said Brad Arnsberg, Houston's pitching coach.
This change in pitching style, with reduced velocity, since arriving in Houston led to a nickname: Mirrsey, a play on his last name combined with a reference to a comment from an Astros minor league coach who remarked that Myers seemed to be getting hitters out with smoke and mirrors.
"It's the efficiency and the ease," a scout said of Myers' transformation. "He is a pitcher. He used to go out there with a bludgeon. Now he's going out there, really, with a scalpel."
The Phillies drafted Myers with their first-round pick in 1999, and immediately comparisons were made to Curt Schilling, then Philadelphia's ace, for the projections that saw Myers as a workhorse starter with a big fastball, one that he could dial up to 96 mph.
About a decade later that same scout was comparing Myers to Schilling for an altogether different reason.
"Brett reminds me a lot of Curt Schilling in Schilling's last three or four years," the scout said. "That's who I was looking at. I was convinced of it. The same type of change Schilling went through is what Brett's going through now. He's no longer a power guy and he's really pitching with four pitches. He just wants contact. He'd just as soon have a 10-pitch inning than a three-punchout inning."
The scout continued by saying that Myers "oozes Brad Arnsberg when you see him on the mound," a nod to the man who has an uncanny knack of connecting on a personal level with his charges and getting them to buy into this philosophies. Arnsberg's instruction of mechanics is well regarded, and there are more concrete benefits: Arnsberg is the rare pitching coach who catches his starters' bullpens, and the quantity and quality of his video study is unmatched.
Says Arnsberg, "I think [Myers] has also figured out that command of his pitches and following scouting reports that I try to provide for him are kind of the spice of life to him."
Indeed, that combination did work for Myers, who admitted that Arnsberg was a key reason he wanted to remain an Astro, signing a two-year, $23 million extension in the offseason that, with a club option, could keep him in Houston through 2013.
"The pitching coach had a lot to do with it and the success I've had," Myers said. "I figured I could get even better if I stayed around him. I was comfortable here. Once we got that relationship, pretty much what he told me and how to go about it was gospel to me. Whatever he says is going to get done."
Arnsberg gained that trust in part by letting Myers be his own man. "Where he was before," said Arnsberg, referring to Philadelphia, "I don't think they gave him as much leeway. We've let Brett be what he wants to be rather than always try to mother hen him. We let him tend to his own backyard."
Myers was often in the spotlight as a Phillie, whether for his on-field performance (he was demoted to the minors midway through the 2008 season) or his off-field turbulence (most notably a 2006 arrest for allegedly assaulting his wife; Myers pleaded not guilty at his initial arraignment, and his wife declined to press charges).
Today, the 30-year-old Myers is called a great teammate, an enforcer of accountability and a leader, a notable change for someone who told
In spring training this year Astros rightfielder Hunter Pence, already an All-Star, was asked whether he was assuming a more outspoken leadership role. Pence quickly deferred to the teammate who stands up for everyone and makes the players fight that much harder.
"Brett Myers is that guy," Pence said.
Arnsberg recalled an incident last year when he peered around a corner from the dugout down to the hallway that connects to the clubhouse and saw Myers ream out a young teammate for acting unprofessionally and embarrassing the manager and the team.
"When I got here," Myers said, referring to joining the Astros, "there was more talk behind other people's backs or coming to some of the guys and saying, 'See what he did?' or 'why didn't he do this?' Nobody really said anything. It was just two people talking about it instead of having the third person there to tell him what he did wrong. So I'll just say it in front of everybody. If it's embarrassing to them, then they shouldn't do it next time."
Myers has also taken it upon himself to make sure his teammates are having fun, rather than remaining quiet or disappearing as soon as a game is over. He was shocked that the team bus back to the hotel was often silent -- "like their dog just died" -- even after wins, so he's taken to grabbing the microphone and cracking wise.
"I came from a team that had been to the playoffs the past three years, and, I mean, it was just a constant, that everyone got on everybody," he said. "That's just the way it was. Jokes were told all the time.
"This clubhouse was laid back to the extent that there wasn't anybody telling jokes or having fun with their teammates. They were coming to the field, getting their job done and then leaving. After the game, there weren't guys hanging around and talking about what happened in the game -- that's how you learn."
From the example Myers has set in the clubhouse and the performances he's had on the mound, Arnsberg told manager Brad Mills and general manager Ed Wade halfway through last summer that signing Myers was the best thing to happen to the Astros last year.
Myers earned such praise for the changes he made, both as a pitcher and as a man.