NEW YORK - Watching will be the hardest part, particularly for an athlete whose job for the better part of eight seasons has been to take the ball in the ninth inning of a close game and deliver a victory. Brad Lidge got a taste of it Tuesday night, when he returned to his home in South Jersey and watched the Phillies' 6-5 loss to the Mets, fighting the urge to loosen up in the later stages of a game that they briefly led in the sixth inning.
"I think that's going to be the biggest challenge in this," Lidge told reporters yesterday in his first public comments since the Phillies placed him on the 15-day disabled with a lingering case of inflammation in his right knee. "Wanting to get back out there vs. being smart about making sure that I really am through it. That's kind of the mental challenge of this part, sitting in here and watching a game and watching the ninth inning come and it's a one-, two-, three-run lead and I'm not out there. That's going to be really hard. Enough of those go by, you want to get out there. So it is going to be very tough to put the reins on and make sure it's really recovered before I tell myself it's recovered, but maybe it's not quite.''
How long Lidge will fight that battle remains to be seen. The righthander said yesterday he is hopeful that his stay on the DL will not last much longer than the 15-day minimum. He received a second cortisone injection in the knee during a quick visit to team doctor Michael Ciccotti Tuesday in Philadelphia before rejoining his teammates at Citi Field yesterday. He expects to spend the next 7 to 10 days resting, after which he hopes to begin throwing off the mound. From that point, his return to the field depends on his right knee, which has caused him pain since the early part of the season.
"That's what we're going to be optimistic about,'' said Lidge, who is eligible to be activated on June 23. "We're hoping that it doesn't have to be much longer than 15 days. We don't really know for sure, obviously. It's going to depend on how I feel when I throw. That being said, I think a good chunk of time here is going to get it a lot better.''
Lidge's trip to the doctor confirmed what was revealed in two previous MRIs - that there is no structural damage to the knee, meaning surgery at this point or in the future is unlikely. Lidge had two arthroscopic surgeries on the same knee prior to the 2008 season, but the problem at that point was a tear in the cartilage in the joint. His current problem lies in the synovial sac, which surrounds and protects the joint. According to Lidge, the sac has been filling with fluid, which is what the cortisone shot should flush out. Problem is, the movements of a pitcher can reaggravate the injury, causing the inflammation to return. Lidge said that situation has happened throughout the season, which led to his inconsistency.
"I feel like my knee when it first got hurt to now has gotten better,'' said Lidge, who is 0-3 with a 7.27 ERA and six blown saves in 19 opportunities. "It's not really a straight line. It kind of goes up and down. If I have to field a ground ball or if I have to cover first or if I have to throw a few days in a row, it kind of sets it off again and then it's painful for a little bit, and then it gets better. It just kind of goes back and forth. And I think that without having to throw for a good chunk of time on it, I'm really hoping that that is the answer that it needs. Because I think it is going to get better if it doesn't keep getting reaggravated.''
It took some time for Lidge to come to this realization. Initially, he wasn't happy when the Phillies informed him they were placing him on the disabled list. Lidge felt like he could pitch through the injury, something he had done with varying degrees of effectiveness over the previous 2 months. But that changed after he assessed his performance in two blown saves last weekend against the Dodgers, when the velocity on his fastball had dropped and his slider had flattened.
"I don't want to hurt our team by going out there and throwing less than what I am capable of," Lidge said. "I still feel like I can get guys out and do well, but I also understand. If things go a little differently, obviously one-run games in LA, then maybe we keep going, and you know what, maybe that is a bad idea because something else gets hurt because of it."
Paul Bako isn't sure how much playing time he will receive as the third catcher on the Phillies, but manager Charlie Manuel said the veteran should see some action behind the plate, particularly with fellow catcher Chris Coste as a potential righthanded pinch-hitter.
Bako, 36, was called up from Double A Reading earlier in the week. He is a career .231 hitter but is viewed as a strong defensive presence behind the plate. He has played for 10 teams in 11 seasons, including twice with Phillies slugger Matt Stairs (in 2006 with the Royals and 2002 with the Brewers).
"It gives me an option to use Coste in a game against lefthanded pitchers sometimes," Manuel said. "I will catch [Bako] at times. He's on our team and everything and he has to get to play some too. How much, it depends on how things work. But I will put him in there and let him play sometime. That way too, when I rest [Carlos Ruiz] sometimes, I can have a lefthanded-hitting catcher in there."
Bako pinch-hit in the seventh inning with the bases loaded and no outs in last night's game, and struck out. *
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