Baseball players are celebrities, rich and famous. Throw one pitch or swing one bat in a Major League game and you are on track for a lifestyle where you don’t have to worry about paying your bills if you play your cards right. All you have to do is not let the enormity of each situation get to you.
Don’t let the ninth inning trick you into thinking it’s more important than the third.
Don’t let the imprints of the microphone pressed against your chin make you think the fate of the free world rests on your next pitching performance.
Don’t let the raucous roar of the crowd pick you up and place you in the middle of the freeway with cars going 75 every which way, all in a blur.
Just go out and pitch.
Last season, Phillies’ relievers did just that. The unflappable bunch had the best bullpen ERA in the National League at 3.22. Any of the Phillies’ starters could have had a mediocre five-inning performance and Charlie Manuel had no problem tossing the ball to Chad Durbin, Ryan Madson, J.C. Romero, or closer Brad Lidge to keep the team in the game long enough for the offense to barge its way through the door to a victory.
Last season, Madson somehow got his fastball, which used to have to huff and puff its way to home plate, up to 97 on the gun. Romero was one of the toughest lefty relievers in baseball, and Lidge had one of the best seasons by a reliever in baseball history.
Essentially the same squad, sans Romero thanks to a 50-game suspension, returned for the 2009 season. The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good, but it’s been good as their 3.94 ERA indicates.
Lidge seems to be the only person who hasn’t shown up for the season yet, as he’s been battling knee injuries since spring training. After three straight scoreless appearances in Washington and Cincinnati that ended in the right-hander earning saves, Lidge has blown saves in each of his last two appearances against the comeback-prone New York Yankees. Prior to Lidge’s three scoreless appearances, he had allowed runs in six straight.
Overall, he’s appeared in 21 games. Only 10 have been scoreless. In six, he’s given up one run; in two he’s given up two; in two he’s given up three; and once he’s given up four.
Back on May 15, I suggested that Lidge needed to be put on the disabled list so that he could work out his issues without costing the Phillies games. That was a decision that seemed to be made easier by the fact that Madson has been utterly dominant since August of last season, and he certainly has the stuff to succeed moving from the eighth inning to the ninth inning.
Hopefully not too late, that idea seems to be picking up traction, but Charlie Manuel seems devoted to letting Lidge fix himself during Major League instead of Minor League games.
The Phillies have enough issues getting their starters through five innings; they can’t afford to worry about the ninth inning either. It seems like a no-brainer: Madson closes, while Lidge figures himself out. But who takes over Madson’s spot?
Clay Condrey. The guy you’ve heard of, but you can’t put a name to the face. Or perhaps you’ve never heard of him. He’s only put up a 3.26 ERA last season and a 2.19 ERA so far this season after yesterday’s 11-inning win against the Yankees in the series finale.
FIP hasn’t put him at anything more than an average pitcher, but nonetheless, he has consistently done whatever job was asked of him since the start of last season. Plus, he’s efficient, averaging only 14.5 pitches per inning in ’08 and 15 this season. What’s even more impressive is that he’s been put in pressure situations more frequently and has done even better. His average Leverage Index (aLI) last season was 0.47; this season, it’s 0.72. Not quite Brad Lidge territory (1.81 this season), but getting there.
Lidge to DL; Madson to closer; Condrey to set-up, at least until J.C. Romero returns from his suspension. Since Park is in the bullpen, you don’t really lose a right-handed long reliever, and you still have two LOOGYs in Scott Eyre and Jack Taschner. The only other business to be done is filling the last spot in the bullpen, and the Phillies can just call Sergio Escalona for the time being, so they also have a lefty mop-up guy along with Park.
Seems like the Phillies listened to me when I suggested calling up John Mayberry Jr., so maybe they’ll listen to me again. Of course, when you listen to me, you also run the risk of hearing me pull one of these:
 World Series
Colorado Rockies @ Cleveland Indians: Cleveland wins in 6 games