“Angry,” Brad Lidge said when asked to describe his reaction last night. “It makes you angry.”
That’s probably how many of you feel after the closer blew his ninth save. Charlie Manuel is remaining supportive. “He’s our closer,” Manuel said tonight. “I’ve said it all over the place. That’s the guy who we’ve got.”
A lot of fans are frustrated with Manuel for his steadfast refusal to make a change, but he has to say those things. Manuel’s job is to coax an improved performance out of Lidge, and he is not going to achieve that by publicly questioning a guy whose confidence is known to sometimes waver.
The larger question that many of you are asking is, why keep putting him into save situations? It’s a reasonable question, getting more so with every blown save. But the team really, really doesn’t want it to come to that. Think about how disruptive it could be to make such a major change so soon before the playoffs. The closer anchors everyone else in his role, and any change would be a major risk, perhaps a greater risk than hoping Lidge improves or at least survives in the playoffs.
And who are your candidates to replace him? Ryan Madson, who struggled in that role earlier in the season, and Brett Myers, whose third rehab outing tonight takes on increased significance. Some emailers have suggested Chan Ho Park, but the Phils cannot afford to lose him in his current role. A swingman capable of pitching several innings and setting up is more valuable than a closer.
I think that Manuel has been crossing his fingers all year that Lidge would turn it around, and that he wouldn’t have to make a tough call. Manuel has often referenced the way Lidge was treated in Houston, where he was demoted from the closer job, and said he doesn’t want to operate like that.
So what’s wrong with the guy this year, after a perfect 2008? I would not be at all surprised if we learned during the offseason that his knee was more seriously injured than we knew, but that is mere speculation right now. Tonight, he blamed fatigue caused by appearing in four consecutive games. His confidence cannot be very high.
Whatever the causes, the fact is: This is a problem for the Phils. I’m sorry not to have any sharper insight than that, but truly complex problems never have easy solutions.