Posted by Mike Frohwirth
Yesterday's 9th inning implosion by Brad Lidge didn't seem particularly concerning. It was a Spring Training game, after all. Lidge was just a proven veteran getting some work in, preparing for when the results did matter.
This morning, Phillies fans became very concerned, as it was announced that Lidge would likely begin the season on the Disabled List. Lidge, who had been troubled by biceps tendinitis earlier this Spring, is experiencing pain in the back of his right (pitching) shoulder. He will be examined further this weekend, but the immediate prognosis is that he will be out of action for at least the next few weeks. With the Phillies' opener only a week away, a DL stint appears highly probably for the veteran closer.
What does this mean for the Phillies end-of-game strategy?
Without Lidge, the Phillies will be more strategic in their end-of-game machinations. Manager Charlie Manuel will utilize Ryan Madson in the eighth or ninth inning, depending on game situation (score, scheduled opposing batters, etc.). Jose Contreras will be used in slightly-lower leverage situations than Madson, but usually in the final two innings. J.C. Romero and Antonio Bastardo will both be employed carefully, often called in to face but a single, left-handed…
OK. It's probably not going to work out that way at all. Expect Madson to pitch the ninth, regardless of situations earlier in the game. Contreras will pitch the eighth, often facing the middle of the opponent's batting order. J.C. Romero will be seen way too frequently, and his propensity for walking batters will create much more excitement at the end of games. These three veterans will be overworked, which may result in injuries, either to them, or to starting pitchers kept in games too long (when the three relievers have each worked four days in a row). Kyle Kendrick will be "saved" for long relief opportunities, Danys Baez will be buried after his second bad outing in the season's first week, and Antonio Bastardo's existence will be entirely forgotten. But, despite all of our anguish about bullpen deployment, the starting rotation will be excellent, the Madson/Contreras duo will be fine, and the Phillies will win the majority of their ballgames.
What does this mean for the Phillies' roster?
It had been a question of whether the Phillies would begin the season with six or seven relievers. At this point, Ryan Madson, Jose Contreras, Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, and Kyle Kendrick all appear highly likely to make the roster. Antonio Bastardo should make the team as a second left-hander. If the Phillies take a seventh reliever, David Herndon appears to be the frontrunner, with Scott Mathieson also an option. But, given the early season schedule, with more frequent days off, the Phillies might be better-served with another position player on their bench. Pete Orr, Delwyn Young, Josh Barfield, and Rule 5 infielder/outfielder Michael Martinez are all in the mix for reserve roles.
What does this mean for Brad Lidge? Obviously, this is very bad news for the closer. As a (likely) pending free agent, he needs a good season to leave himself well-positioned among the members of next offseason's strong relief class. With the Phillies likely to decline his $12.5MM option for 2012, if Lidge misses considerable time, he may need to sign a one-year deal in '12 (to re-establish his value). Hopefully, this won't be a lost season for the veteran. The Phillies are a better team with a healthy Lidge as a bullpen option.