Paul Hagen: Lidge a sore spot the Phillies must solve

Brad Lidge, fresh off disastrous loss, pitches perfect 11th inning.
Brad Lidge, fresh off disastrous loss, pitches perfect 11th inning.
Posted: August 02, 2010

WASHINGTON - There was a time, and not that long ago, when the unspoken understanding in following a baseball team was that there would be some highs and there would be some lows and that overreacting to every plot twist from the middle of February until October was just plain silly.

That, of course, was before Twitter and blogs and Google alerts and saturation-level coverage of sports that tricks us into thinking that every wrinkle must be the most critical development in the history of the franchise, at least until whatever happens tomorrow.

So when the Phillies won eight straight and traded for Roy Oswalt, it was time to grease up the flatbed trucks that would once again haul the World Series floats down Broad Street.

And when Oswalt was mediocre in his first Phillies start and Brad Lidge had a spectacular blown save and Raul Ibanez and Ryan Howard were hurt and they had to go into extra innings yesterday to avoid being swept by the last-place Nationals, it was a sure sign that all hope is lost.

The trick is to figure out what really matters and what is just a hot topic that gets sports talk radio through another hour.

It says here that Oswalt will be better and that we have to accept the Phillies' assurances that Ibanez and Howard are not seriously hurt, until proven otherwise, and that you can't win 'em all.

The sinking feeling, though, is that Lidge will remain a sore point despite a rare 1-2-3 save in yesterday's 6-4, 11-inning win at Nationals Park.

In 2008, he was 41-for-41 in save opportunities during the regular season with a 1.95 earned run average. Since then - and it's going on 2 full years now - he's had 15 blown saves and a 6.69 ERA.

So when Charlie Manuel had him warming up in the top of the ninth and 10th in case the Phillies went ahead, and brought him in to pitch the 11th after the Phillies scored twice, you could almost hear the anguished screams from fans watching and listening back home.

"You know something? I look at that and I've got to give him a little rope. I've definitely got to show him that I'm willing to stay with him and we'll see what happens there," the manager said. "I think he understands. I think, right now, he definitely wants to prove he's that man and he can still do it and that he's good for our team and he can help us and he wants to keep his closer's role. I feel like we've definitely got to give him some time."

Now, that isn't what most people want to hear. But the reality is that Manuel is in kind of a box.

There aren't a lot of good answers here, and certainly no easy ones. The best possible solution is for Lidge to somehow rediscover his touch. And until the manager becomes convinced that won't happen, that will be the hope.

Sure, he could make Ryan Madson the closer. But Madson hasn't been consistently effective when used in that role. And then the Phils would still have to figure out who would pitch in the eighth instead. And what to do with Lidge.

Here's the problem, though. It was one thing to have a lot of patience last season when they maintained a comfortable division lead through most of the second half. It's another thing entirely to be experimenting while also trying to overtake the Braves, which is the position they're in at the moment. And the deeper into the season it gets, the less wiggle room there is.

"Believe me, I'll never let my heart overrule the fact that we're a team. I want what's best for the team. From that standpoint, you have to make decisions as a manager every day," Manuel said. "I definitely think he's got to be better than what he's been so far. I also feel like, I think at times, I really believe he's got to save a couple in a row. Today was a good start. Now he's got to have two or three games in a row and run a clean slate. And then I think he may be all right. Because he's very capable."

It was kind of interesting yesterday that Lidge got his outs on 83-84 mph sliders, not his nasty 86-88 mph pitch that dive-bombs toward the dirt. But he threw it around the plate and convinced the hitters to swing and got the outs.

"Less than 24 hours ago, I was real frustrated," Lidge said of the three-run homer by Ryan Zimmerman that sunk the Phillies Saturday night. "Then I get another chance. I really wanted [this] ballgame. That's really what makes this game so great."

Maybe he's on to something. Maybe this is just the latest in a series of false steps that have alternately tantalized and frustrated the Phillies for the last two seasons. The Nationals series proved, once again, how quickly things can change in baseball.

But Lidge has been a puzzle long enough now that, even in an age where following sports has the potential to cause whiplash, he has become a legitimate concern.

Send e-mail to hagenp@phillynews.com

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|