Phillies continue to be in Lidge's corner
Scuffling veteran to remain closer for forseeable future
PITTSBURGH -- Manager Charlie Manuel continues to tell the world that he has loads of confidence in Phillies closer Brad Lidge.
But as summer ends and September and October approach, Lidge has shown no indications of pulling out of his season-long funk, which has Phillies fans in a semi-state of panic as the team approaches its third consecutive postseason. Lidge is 0-6 with a 7.33 ERA and 25 saves in 34 opportunities. His ERA is the highest of any reliever in baseball. His nine blown saves lead the Majors and are just three behind Mark Leiter, who set the franchise record with 12 blown saves in 1998.
"We have a lot of confidence in Brad," Chase Utley said before Wednesday night's game against the Pirates at PNC Park. "I think people kind of look back to last year and see how well he pitched -- and he's obviously capable of doing that. I think we got a little spoiled because he was perfect. Baseball is a game of failure. At some point you're going to fail, but that doesn't change how we view him. We still have a lot of confidence in him."
But why? Lidge is 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA and four saves in seven opportunities in nine appearances since Aug. 6.
"Because he's good," Utley said. "He's got good stuff. He's got dominant stuff. The numbers can lie a little bit sometimes, but opposing teams do not like facing him."
Lidge blew a save in a 6-4 loss to the Pirates on Tuesday, his fourth consecutive day on the mound. Lidge said afterward that historically he does not pitch well on his fourth consecutive day. He entered that game 2-1 with a 5.40 ERA in six appearances in that situation, although he had been scoreless in his previous four, including twice in May.
The Phillies had another save opportunity in Wednesday's game against the Pirates, but Lidge was given the day off. Ryan Madson pitched the ninth with a 1-0 lead, but allowed a solo homer to Brandon Moss to tie the game. The Phillies went on to win, 4-1, in 10 innings.
Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said he asked Lidge before Tuesday's game how he felt and Lidge said he was ready to go. When he called the bullpen in the ninth, Lidge reiterated he felt good. Lidge said after the game he would pitch 10 consecutive days if asked, but the Phillies might have to rethink how they use him. Lidge has a 9.87 ERA when he pitches on no rest this season. He has a 5.83 ERA when he pitches on one day of rest or more.
A 5.83 ERA still is troubling, but it is more than a four-run improvement.
"We will from now on, yeah," Dubee said, asked if he must guard against pitching Lidge four consecutive days. "If he doesn't think the fourth day is good, maybe we'll just go two. I don't know. We'll see how it plays out."
Asked if he sees a situation where Lidge is not the closer entering the playoffs, Dubee said, "Right now, no. We'll see how it plays out."
Right-hander Brett Myers was scheduled to pitch two innings Wednesday night in Double A Reading. He is the best alternative to replace Lidge because has closed before. But he hasn't closed since 2007 and he is returning from surgery on his right hip. To get Manuel to move from Lidge to Myers, it stands to reason Lidge would have to continue his current struggles and Myers would have to be dominant. Lidge still has two years remaining on his contract, so the Phillies are thinking long-term, too.
So Lidge remains entrenched for the immediate future, while his counterparts in the bullpen try to be as supportive as possible. Everybody inside the Phillies insist Lidge is healthy -- he spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a sprained right knee -- and that his stuff is good. They said his mechanics were out of whack at one point, but that no longer seems to be a focus of his problems.
"If you have advice give it, but don't ostracize him," right-hander Chad Durbin said. "It's like family. You're going to let him figure some things out on his own. He knows how to right the ship. If we see something we'll say something to him, but we know everybody is coming at him. We'll listen to him if he has stuff he has to get off his chest."
Confidence would seem to be a major issue at this point, although Lidge has said he has confidence on the mound. But Lidge looked shell-shocked after Tuesday's loss.
"Baseball can be crude at times," Durbin said. "And you can also forget about a bad season in a good run in September and October. The velocity is there. The breaking ball is there. He needs the confidence. Hitters are like sharks. A little bit of blood. Serious. As soon as you give them something like that, they'll smell it and go after you."
Lidge's goal is to stop the bleeding before it's too late.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.