Phillies' Madson looks forward to becoming a closer

Not firing on all cylinders: Phils starter Roy Oswalt leaves the mound after giving up a pair of homers. Phillies pitchers got little support Monday.
Not firing on all cylinders: Phils starter Roy Oswalt leaves the mound after giving up a pair of homers. Phillies pitchers got little support Monday.
Posted: March 08, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. - This summer, the Madsons will put the finishing touches on their new home in New Jersey, completing the family's move from Southern California. It's just one reason why Ryan Madson, who will be a free agent after 2011, wants to remain a Phillie after 14 seasons in the organization.

"I would love the opportunity to stay and finish my career here," the 30-year-old reliever said.

Of course, it's more complicated than that. Madson says his ultimate goal is to be a closer. The Phillies hold a $12.5 million option on current closer Brad Lidge for 2012 that will likely be declined, barring a spectacular season.

If both are free agents, they could each seek closer's money on the open market. With a Phillies payroll that already has $107 million committed to just nine players in 2012, there is probably room for just one.

And should Madson spend the entire season as a setup man again, would the Phillies have enough confidence to make him the permanent successor to Lidge?

"We're going to have to make some decisions on both those guys, obviously," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said.

Madson will turn 31 in August and has never been a full-time closer. Though he's had limited opportunities to pitch in the ninth, they haven't gone well. His career ERA in the ninth inning is 4.21. In the eighth it's 3.09, and in the seventh it's 2.91.

But that's only a rudimentary analysis of Madson's work in the ninth. His numbers are best in high-leverage situations. His postseason performances have been phenomenal. And his chances to close haven't lasted beyond a few weeks at a time, so the sample size is small.

"As a setup guy, he's the best in the game," Lidge said. "I really think he's the best setup guy in the game."

Madson said he relies on that success for confidence as he yearns for more closing opportunities. It took Madson being at the lowest point to step back and look at the bigger picture.

He began the 2010 season as the closer with Lidge on the disabled list still recovering from offseason surgery. Madson converted four of the six save opportunities he had. He blew one April 20 against Atlanta and another eight days later in San Francisco to put his ERA at 7.00 for the month of April.

That day in San Francisco, a frustrated Madson kicked a chair in the visiting clubhouse. He broke his right big toe and did not return until July 8. Madson realized he had to change his approach.

"Last year didn't work," Madson said. "It wasn't working. I put too much pressure on myself to prove to people that I could do it. Now I'm just going to play. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, I can pitch the eighth for any team. That's where I'm going to build my confidence from."

After returning from the injury, Madson had a 1.64 ERA in 44 innings. His ERA in appearances made on zero days rest was 1.83. No one will deny Madson has the makings of a closer.

"He hasn't proven it yet," Amaro said. "We think he has the stuff to do it."

"As far as stuff-wise goes, of course, he's very capable of doing it," Lidge said. "And he's got a good head on his shoulders."

The mental part is what has failed him - and many others - in the past, Madson said. Being perfect became an obsession, and it cost him the ability to focus.

"I found a routine I liked in the second half," Madson said. "I was comfortable and ready to pitch every game, every hitter, every pitch. That was my main goal. Down to every pitch. Focus. OK. Sometimes, game after game after game, you go through the motions. Last year, what I learned, I would say, 'Focus,' on every pitch before I started the inning."

The lanky reliever leaned back in his chair and kept saying "focus." Madson said he's discussed the situation with Lidge, and they expect plenty of chances for both because the Phillies figure to be in many close games given their starting pitching talent.

The Phillies may not need Madson as a closer in 2011, but he says he wants chances to prove it before free agency comes.

"I'm ready," Madson said. "I know I can do it. I just need to approach it the right way."


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb

|
|
|
|
|