Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Lidge Hits DL with Knee Sprain

Just a few days removed from blowing saves on consecutive days against the Dodgers, Brad Lidge was placed on the 15-day DL with a sprained right knee. Lidge was brilliant for the Phillies in 2008, but he has had a terrible 2009 season, with a 7.27 ERA, a 1.81 WHIP, and 6 blown saves.

Presumably Ryan Madson will take over the closer duties, making this DL stint a potential blessing in disguise. Madson has been superb in the setup role, and has two saves to his name already this year. On the season, he's got a 2.22 ERA and a 1.06 WHIP, plus 13 holds. He's been especially dominant of late, not having allowed a run in 10 straight appearances.

So there's little doubt Madson can handle the closer's role. The question becomes, who will take his place as the setup man? J.C. Romero is the most obvious choice, given his track record. But Romero is far better suited to be a lefty-specialist. In his career, left-handed batters have hit just .212 against him with a .591 OPS, wheras right-handed batters have hit .272 with a .814 OPS.

Romero will undoubtedly take some of the eighth inning duties, but he won't go at it alone. Clay Condrey, who served as a long reliever and mop-up man for much of last season, is probably the best candidate to share the seventh and eighth inning duties with Romero. Condrey is having a career-year, with a 2.17 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP, but relying on him in the eighth inning is a little scary, considering that his WHIP has hovered around 1.50 in virtually every other season, so a lapse in his performance could be around the corner.

Another option would be Chad Durbin, but neither his 2009 stats nor his track record suggest he would be the best fit. However, he is now in line to get more work in the sixth and seventh innings than he was before, so we'll see what kind of impact that has.

Scott Eyre should also be expected to get a few more opportunities, especially when the Phillies need him to get one or two big left-handers out. Normally this task would have fallen on Romero more often, but with Romero taking on a more generic setup role, Eyre is now officially the lefty specialist.

One thing the Phillies have going for them is bullpen depth. Durbin, Chan Ho Park, and Jack Taschner make up the back-end of the bullpen, and both Durbin and Taschner have been solid this year. Park has been a huge disappointment this year as a starter, but has shown some decent promise as a reliever and, if nothing else, he should be able to eat a few innings as a mop-up pitcher.

When placing Lidge on the DL, the Phillies made the curious decision of calling up Paul Bako to take his roster spot. This gives the Phillies three catchers, which is all well and good if Manuel wants to have the freedom to use one of them as a pinch hitter, but in this case there isn't much logic to it. Carlos Ruiz has put up superb offensive numbers of late, whereas Chris Coste has not hit very well this year. And it's not as if Bako is going to rake. He's a 36-year old career-backup with a .231 batting average and 21 HR to his name. He's mostly known as a good defensive catcher and game-caller, so there could be some value there, but isn't that what Ruiz was supposed to be even before he become a competent hitter?

This is a situation when calling up Lou Marson would've made sense, since he can hit and the Phillies would have actually wanted to use him as a pinch hitter. John Mayberry would also have been a good fit, especially with Shane Victorino a little nicked up from the Dodgers series. The only reason I can think of for bringing up Bako is that this way the Phillies can avoid wasting options on Marson and Mayberry, while allowing them to play everyday in the minor leagues. Not a terrible decision, but wouldn't any of Andy Tracy, Miguel Cairo, or David Newhan made more sense?

That said, while you never want to have your closer go down, because of the Phillies' bullpen depth and Lidge's struggles, the team may actually get better while he's out. Besides, Lidge has not been himself this year and perhaps the time off will get him healthy and mentally prepared to return to dominance.

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