There is progress: When the team returns home from this seven-game West Coast trip that began Thursday, Lidge will play catch for the first time. It puts him right in the middle of the original diagnosis of being shut down completely for three to six weeks.
"It means that it's going as they thought it would, which is good," Lidge said. "There haven't been any setbacks. It's responding at every step. They're trying to be smart with it because if there is a setback it could be a big setback.
"We have to be smart, but at the same time it feels good, and I want to get out there as soon as I can."
Of course, it's much more complex than that, especially for a pitcher who had already lost 2 m.p.h. off his average fastball velocity from 2009 to 2010. And the pitch he threw 60 percent of the time last season, the slider, is one that puts great strain on the shoulder.
Lidge is 13 saves shy of tying Jose Mesa's franchise record of 112, but it's not unreasonable to wonder if the once-dominant closer has saved his last game for the Phillies - even if he does return sometime around the all-star break. He is in the final year of a three-year, $37.5 million deal. The Phillies hold a $12.5 million option for 2012 that will almost certainly be declined.
In his place, Jose Contreras has demonstrated competency over the season's first 18 games. Phillies officials are impressed with not only his ability on the mound but his mental fortitude, which has made transitioning to closer a non-issue.
The 39-year-old closer has yet to allow a run with eight strikeouts in seven innings. He had converted all four save opportunities entering Thursday.
"He knows what's on the line," manager Charlie Manuel said of Contreras. "He's made good pitches at the right times."
All of that could leave Lidge without a role upon his return, but that is something the Phillies will worry about once the time comes.
"I'm encouraged," Lidge said. "It's just hard to be patient watching games."
A rest for Ruiz
Carlos Ruiz had started the previous nine games at catcher. He caught all nine innings Wednesday, then boarded the team's charter for the six-hour flight here.
So it was no surprise he sat in the opener, with Brian Schneider behind the plate for Roy Oswalt.
Manuel said he expected Schneider to play more because Ruiz needs regular rest. But the manager often says that about his regulars and fails to live up to that promise. With regard to Ruiz, because all of the pitchers like throwing to him, it can be difficult.
He played in a career-high 121 games in 2010, and Manuel said he would shoot for a similar figure in 2011.
"If he can play anywhere from 110 to 120 games, that would be real good," Manuel said. "Even if he plays 100 or 90, Schneider is very capable of filling in and handling that role."
Pete Orr also earned a start in the series opener, filling in for Wilson Valdez at second base. . . . Chase Utley (chronic knee pain) continued his running drills in the outfield with head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan.
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
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