The Phillies' bullpen is a tight-knit group. They often huddle in the locker room, sharing private jokes and crossword puzzles. They star in their own television reality show, and sometimes (really), they give one another haircuts. But most important to the team, they take seriously their job of supporting any member who is struggling.

This desire to pick up teammates is intensified when a player is lost to injury, as Brad Lidge and Scott Eyre were last week. The move shuffled a bullpen that had just reclaimed J.C. Romero from a 50-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and forced each player to assume greater responsibility. Though both losses hurt the Phillies, the talent still present in the bullpen should allow the team to manage.

But they will be weakened. There was a knee-jerk perception among many Phillies fans that Lidge needed to be removed from the closer's role anyway, after blowing his fifth and sixth saves of the year in consecutive games in Los Angeles last weekend. After the team, er, nudged Lidge onto the disabled list Tuesday with a right knee sprain (funny how inflammation and diminished confidence, if left untreated, can suddenly develop into a sprain), some felt the Phillies would be better off.

They were wrong. Lidge has been generally effective of late; after two tough games in Yankee Stadium in late May, he converted five consecutive save opportunities without allowing a run. He looked nearly identical to the Lidge who was perfect in 41 regular-season save chances last year and went 7 for 7 in the postseason.

The first blown save in the Dodgers series could have been charged to the usually smooth third baseman Pedro Feliz, who flubbed a groundball and granted Los Angeles a bonus out in the ninth inning. Andre Ethier scorched a game-winner off Lidge, but never should have batted. The next night, Lidge entered with a one-run lead and surrendered a homer to Rafael Furcal. That happens.

Three days later, management summoned Lidge to a meeting at the team hotel in New York and granted their closer an unsolicited breather. What had seemed the week before to be a season in recovery was suddenly a season stalled. The good news for the Phils is that Lidge looked generally strong before the forced vacation. A few weeks of rest and rehabilitation on the knee, which has been swollen for most of the season, is likely to make him better.

Until then, though, the pen looks different. Perhaps the most significant problem for the Phils was losing Ryan Madson as an eighth-inning pitcher. Madson will close until Lidge returns, and has already shown he is capable. But one could argue that a shutdown set-up guy is more important than a lights-out closer. Closers often pitch in less important situations, compiling saves in one-inning performances with a two- or three-run lead. The save rule has caused many a wasted reliever to sit through high-leverage situations in the middle innings only to enter when the game has already been won.

Madson has been the Phillies' best late-inning reliever this season, which his why he belongs in the seventh and eighth inning, where the best relievers are needed. He'll fill in capably for Lidge, but be missed in the setup role. Romero, a lefty, will likely perform well in Madson's role, but he will be missed in the seventh. When everyone pitches out of his role, something is lost.

And there is the additional problem of Eyre, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left calf. He has been excellent as a situational lefty, a role that Jack Taschner will likely assume with Romero needed in Madson's old job. Taschner's command has seemed rusty at times this season, and he will be tested in a more important role.

The middle men also become more important with Lidge and Eyre out. After the starting rotation endured an ugly start to the season, Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin have seen ample innings, and now will probably be asked to pitch later in games. The arrival of Kyle Kendrick from triple A filled the mop-up void for one night until he lost Friday night's game against the Red Sox and was sent back down, replaced by lefty Sergio Escalona yesterday. Chan Ho Park will be used in that role, too.

Condrey has been excellent all season. Durbin's 4.22 earned run average is a comedown from his stellar performance in 2008, but he has hardly been a disaster. In fact, opponents are batting .216 against Durbin this season. Last year they hit .254. Park is still adjusting to his new job, but contributed key innings during the Phils' comeback win Wednesday in New York.

They will miss Lidge and Eyre, but should be OK without them. Some relievers are enjoying better seasons than others, but none cause that dyspeptic "uh-oh" feeling when they trot in from the outfield. The bullpen will, however, be better when their two injured friends return.

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Blog response of the week

RE: Pablo Ozuna suspended for performance-enhancing drugs

Posted by LAEagle 06:39 PM, 06/11/2009

Sure he's not just trying to have a baby like Manny?EndText