After unleashing a whole pile of frustration on his team following Sunday's loss in Houston, Charlie Manuel put himself in a tough spot. While he has insisted all season long that Brad Lidge was his closer, if he was truly thinking about this season and not last season, as he told his players to do, he had to pull Lidge. After all, Lidge's perfection came last season and not this season.
"(Expletive) the last couple years. What the hell? That don't mean (expletive). Last year is dead and gone. We play for today," Manuel told reporters after Sunday's loss in Houston completed a four-game sweep for the Astros.
Manuel stuck with Lidge for as long as he possibly could, but when he was nearing another meltdown, something had to be done. After loading the bases with Nationals on Tuesday night, the script was following many of the others that Lidge had written this season. Lidge's confidence is likely shaken about as much as it's going to be shaken and there is no longer a need to try to softly pull him out of the hole that he has put himself into. While Ryan Madson hasn't been dominant in his closing opportunities, for right now, he's a better option than Brad Lidge when it comes to closing out a game.
"I have all the respect in the world for Brad. I know how good a closer he is, and I know how great he can be. I've still got all the confidence in the world in him," explained Manuel after the game. "But I'm sitting there and I didn't have a very good feel about the game. And I made up my mind that I wanted to try Madson. Things will work out and be OK, but at the same it's real tough."
Of course, according to Lidge, Manuel has told him that his Tuesday night yanking was an isolated issue and that Lidge is still the team's closer. In other words, if the Phillies are in a save situation tonight, look for Brad Lidge to get the call. That in itself is a scary proposition, since Lidge's numbers when he pitches on back-to-back nights are even worse than his season numbers. When Lidge pitches on consecutive days, he has a 9.87 ERA and opponents are hitting .319 against him. When he has at least one day rest between appearances, the numbers aren't great, but they're better; 5.67 ERA and opponents are hitting .282 against a rested Lidge.
All season long, rumors have swirled about an injury that Lidge has had to play through, presumably suffered in the World Series celebration when he was swarmed under the pile of teammates. If you think back, Lidge was kneeling on the ground when his teammates joined the celebration and pushed him backwards with his knees still bent. That, on top of the fact that Lidge has had knee problems in the past, seems like a plausible explanation for his struggles, although Lidge has insisted all season long that he wasn't hurt in the celebration. Lately, there have been rumors that he has a blister or other problem with a finger on his throwing hand that is preventing him from having the success that he had last season.
In his defense, Manuel is truly in a tough spot. Let's face it, best-case scenario for the Phillies is that Lidge turns things around and he becomes a dominant closer once again. That's best not just for this season, but for the following two years - and possibly a third - that Lidge has remaining on his contract. When they rewarded him with a three-year deal (with a team option for a fourth year) in July of 2008, they figured on him being their closer for that entire time. They weren't giving him close to $40 million to handle some other role in the bullpen.
If Manuel were to completely bail on Lidge now, the club would be saddled with a guy who has shaky confidence to begin with and had to take a major blow to that confidence early on in the contract. On the other hand, you can't allow Lidge, or any other player, to sink the ball club and hurt their chances or repeating as World Champions. Remember too, that if the Phillies can't get Lidge straightened out now, the issue will linger all during the offseason and plague the Phillies into next season. Pressure and temptation to sign another closer - possibly re-sign Brett Myers - will be there making for a difficult decision to a spot that the Phillies had figured was settled for the foreseeable future.