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Phils' Lidge off to shaky start

WASHINGTON - Brad Lidge has saved 47 consecutive regular-season games, but in two of his first five appearances this year, only multiple-run Phillies leads saved his streak.

WASHINGTON - Brad Lidge has saved 47 consecutive regular-season games, but in two of his first five appearances this year, only multiple-run Phillies leads saved his streak.

On April 8 against Atlanta, Lidge entered the ninth inning with a 12-10 lead and surrendered a home run on a slider to Matt Diaz before escaping with the save. On Monday, the Phillies led Washington, 9-6, in the ninth, and Lidge allowed a two-run homer on a fastball to Ryan Zimmerman before sealing the win.

"I think it's just a matter of just getting him out there more," manager Charlie Manuel said yesterday, before the Phillies' first game in three days. (Tuesday was a scheduled off-day and Wednesday's game was rained out.) "He's had a lot of downtime."

Lidge attributed his early bumps to cold weather and a lack of refinement of his two pitches, the fastball and slider. "For whatever reason, my command and velocity are inconsistent right now," Lidge said. "For me, command of your fastball is the hardest thing to get early on, because you're trying to generate arm speed before you really have it in midseason form, and that makes you lose command."

The Phillies have played several early-season games in wet weather, with temperatures in the low to mid-40s. "If you're pitching in sloppy, wet conditions, you're going to have to scrap a lot," Lidge said. "It's just harder to get a grip on the ball."

Lidge said that his slider was further along than his fastball, although both were progressing. "It's coming along," he said. "You know it's better when, day in and day out, you're not feeling like you need to focus on making sure you're doing everything right. I'm getting there, and I'll feel good when the weather gets warmer."

Rollins slumping

Jimmy Rollins is a nine-year veteran and former MVP, but no all-star is immune from the occasional slump. Through eight games, Rollins is batting .111. He went 0 for 3 with an RBI last night.

Hitting coach Milt Thompson said the problem was not with a particular element of Rollins' swing. "He just tries too hard sometimes," Thompson said.

Manuel said that Rollins' slumps were relatively easy to correct because of a simple, fluid swing and excellent weight distribution in his legs. The fewer elements of a swing, the easier it is for a player and his coaches to tweak.

"But you can know what you're doing wrong at the plate and still can't correct it," Manuel said, adding that many pitchers are exploiting Rollins' eagerness to hit by throwing him first-pitch breaking balls, putting him behind in the count early in at-bats.

"I think he puts pressure on himself - I think so," Manuel said. "Milt and I have talked to him, and he knows his swing, but it can be tough to fix sometimes. You've got guys trying too hard and digging a hole for themselves, and they start pressing."

Still, the manager pointed to Rollins' defense as an important contribution, regardless of whether the shortstop is hitting well. Manuel compared Rollins to Omar Vizquel, whom Manuel managed in Cleveland. Vizquel is renowned as one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball history. "Jimmy's close to Vizquel," Manuel said. "And Jimmy's got more pop in his bat."

Kalas tributes

The Phillies announced yesterday that Harry Kalas' casket will be on view to the public tomorrow morning at Citizens Bank Park, following tonight's pregame tribute to Kalas, who died Monday of heart disease.

The casket will be behind home plate, where fans will be able to file past it from 8 a.m. to approximately 12:45 p.m. A memorial service will begin at 1:30 p.m.

Manuel conceded yesterday that mourning might have sidetracked his team, but he hoped the players would use their feelings as motivation to win.

"That will in some way be a distraction and on their minds," he said. "I think they want to pay tribute to Harry, and so do I. Hopefully, we'll get through it by winning some games."