NEW YORK - Now we get to see how much money Ryan Madson left on the table.
The Phillies hope it's a lot.
Madson is the Phils' new closer. He inherited the job when Brad Lidge gave in to the obvious yesterday: Power pitchers who don't have full use of their push leg are no longer power pitchers. They're batting-practice pitchers.
Lidge went to the disabled list with inflammation in his right knee. He didn't want to go. Team officials made him, and it was the right call. For one thing, they can't afford to see any more blown saves from a pitcher who is not completely healthy. If you're going to lose ball games late, at least do it with a two-legged closer who trusts his stuff.
Lidge looked like a guy who didn't trust his.
There was another factor in the Phils' decision. Lidge is in the first year of a three-year, $37.5 million contract. A pitcher who tries to gut out a leg injury can end up changing his mechanics and hurting his arm. That's what happened to Mark Fidrych way back when. A knee injury led to an arm injury and the end of what started off looking like a great career. Teams are smarter now. They have to be given the investments these pitchers represent.
So the decision to sit Lidge down was done with the short and long term in mind.
The hope is that Lidge finally figures out what's ailing him, gets it taken care of and returns to the mound, throwing bullet fastballs and torpedo sliders, soon. The bite on that slider has been noticeably absent this season, and that's probably because he has tried to protect his ailing back leg.
As for that little confidence problem, brought on by six blown saves - six more than he had all of last year - and a .306 opponents' batting average. . . . Oh, wait, pitching coach Rich Dubee said he was just fibbing about that.
While it's likely that Lidge's problems were mostly physical - remember, he's had two surgeries on this knee - his confidence had to have been bruised more than a little. What goes on between the ears is important in athletics, and we'd bet Phillies officials believed this was a good time for Lidge to get away from it all, especially with tough opponents like the Mets, Red Sox, and Blue Jays looming. Lidge's physical health may have been the No. 1 consideration in this move, but his mental health was probably a close second.
The team has a history with these kinds of moves. In May 2007, it put Ryan Howard on the disabled list with a strained left quadriceps muscle. At the time, Howard was mired in a terrible slump. The trip to the DL healed Howard's leg, and it also served as a little mental-health break, easing his mind and getting him away from the ugliness of the stat sheet. When he returned, he did so with a clear mind and a fresh start. He ended up finishing fifth in the MVP voting.
So this time away could do Lidge some good on two fronts.
And it will provide what should be a fascinating look at Madson.
Benefiting from improved conditioning and dedication to his craft - not to mention many pep talks from Lidge - Madson went from a solid reliever to a spectacular reliever late last season and in the postseason. His fastball jumped 3 or 4 m.p.h. and hit 97 m.p.h. on occasion. That made his already excellent change-up that much more effective.
In short, Madson showed closer's stuff during his emergence as an eighth-inning shutdown man. He seemed to be lining up to be a very attractive closer possibility on the free-agent market after this season, but he opted instead for the financial security of a three-year, $12 million deal - good money, but not top closer money.
Now we get to see how much Madson left on the table.
Now we get to see if he really has closer's stuff.
Oh, the arm and the stuff are there. There's no question about that. But does Madson have the stomach to close for who knows how long? Can he close in big games against the Mets and the Red Sox (this weekend) and the Blue Jays after that? Can he close in a pennant race? The Phillies hope that question becomes irrelevant. They hope Lidge returns, in top form, by that time. But you never know, especially with a knee that's been operated on twice and continues to swell.
The Phils are fortunate that J.C. Romero is back from his suspension to help fortify the back end of the bullpen with Lidge out and Madson elevated. If Madson fails, Romero could close. He certainly has the stomach to do it.
But for now, the job belongs to Madson. He has earned the opportunity.
How much money did he leave on the table by not pursuing a closer's deal in the coming off-season?
The Phillies hope it's a lot.