|Phillies Doing Well without Lidge||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on April 16, 2011
After all the hype surrounding the "Four Aces" of the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason, one pitcher vital to the team's success is already sidelined with an injury.
Though he's not one of the four, Phillies closer Brad Lidge was looked upon to be the shut-down ninth inning man. However, Lidge suffered a strained right rotator cuff and was shut down last month, forcing him to begin the year on the disabled list for the third time in four seasons. He's hoping to return around the All-Star break.
If this were 2008, the Phillies would be itching to get Lidge back. That year, he was dominant, saving 41 games in 41 chances. He added seven saves in as many chances during the postseason en route to a World Series title.
Injury troubles and a loss confidence began to set in for Lidge after his miracle season. He finished 2009 at 0-8 with 11 blown saves and a 7.21 ERA. His strikeouts also began to decline.
Last year, he bounced back in the ERA and strikeout department but still blew five games. He also appeared in a career-low 50 games due to injuries.
Luckily for Lidge, the Fightin' Phils have occasionally bailed him out of his ninth inning follies. In his 16 blown saves over the past two seasons, the Phillies came back and won six. According to ESPN's Jason Vida, only Florida Marlins closer Leo Nunez had more blown saves in which his team came back and won (seven).
Even without Lidge, the Phillies bullpen appears to be in great shape. After a solid 2010 season in which he appeared in 67 games for Philadelphia, Jose Contreras has assumed the closer's role.
Contreras did save four games last season for the Phillies, so at least he has some closing experience. He's 2-for-2 in saves on the young season and has not given up a run in three innings of work.
The 39-year-old Cuban hurler has a vast repertoire of pitches and isn't afraid to throw everything but the kitchen sink at opposing hitters. He features a mid-90s fastball with movement as well as a splitter, overhand curve and forkball. Though Contreras was productive in a middle relief role last season, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel felt comfortable handing the ball to the 6-foot-4 righty in the ninth inning.
At first, Manuel had two viable options to close games in Contreras and long-time Phillies setup man Ryan Madson. Madson seemed logical after he saved 15 games the past two seasons.
However, the Phillies have grown to rely on Madson for the eighth inning and did not want to disrupt that flow. Madson and Contreras still form a dynamic duo at the back of the bullpen.
Like Contreras, Madson is off to a fast start, allowing just one hit and no runs in three innings of work.
Still, the roles of the other Phillies became heightened with Lidge out, but they lead the league with a 1.93 bullpen ERA. They have only given up seven earned runs in 32 2/3 innings and have held opponents to a .214 batting average.
Of these seven runs, David Herndon has given up four. He's expected to be mostly a mop-up reliever, so the Phillies have to be pleased so far with their bullpen.
Antonio Bastardo, J.C. Romero, Kyle Kendrick and Danys Baez have been nearly unhittable in the early going and have provided the bridge to Madson and Contreras.
If the Phillies bullpen continues to perform at a high level, some Phillies fans may hope that Lidge's recovery takes longer than expected. There's no doubt that a healthy Lidge is still a good closer, but baseball is a results-oriented business.
Lidge will obviously have a spot in the bullpen when he returns, but it may be as a middle reliever if things continue going so well for the Phillies late in games. He'd likely take Herndon's spot on the roster.
As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Such may be the case with Lidge and the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen as the season nears the All-Star break.