The Phillies had a seven-game lead over both the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins entering last night, but a major worry continued to be the closer situation.

A year after succeeding in all 48 save opportunities (including the postseason), Brad Lidge has struggled mightily. He entered last night 0-6 with a 7.33 ERA and nine blown saves.

To his credit, Lidge has remained a standup guy, not shying away from the questions.

Lidge said that he was healthy, that his knee felt fine, and that he did not believe he was far from regaining his form.

He said one of the problems had been working with runners on base.

"I haven't been as effective coming out of the stretch, and that is what I am working the hardest on," Lidge said before last night's game against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

He said the problem was solvable.

"The biggest thing is working on the stretch," he said, "and when that happens, I will be back to where I need to be, and I don't think that it's that far off."

Lidge said he appreciated the support he had received from manager Charlie Manuel, who has stuck with the righthander.

"He is probably the best guy I ever had in terms of if a guy is not doing so well, or if he is doing well - just having a feel for the players," Lidge said. "I think that is why he is such a great manager and one of the reasons we all respond so well to him."

Manuel said he had confidence in Lidge, but hinted that even his patience goes only so far.

"I think it's important to show confidence to people, but at the same time, we're out there to win games," Manuel said, adding that Lidge understood the situation.

Trying to change his luck, Lidge got his hair cut yesterday in the clubhouse. The barber was Ryan Madson, once again setting up the closer.

Romero on hold. Reliever J.C. Romero didn't have much progress to report on a strained left forearm that has sidelined him for more than a month.

Romero said he had to stop a bullpen session earlier this week in Clearwater, Fla., because of pain. He went on the disabled list on July 23, retroactive to July 20.

"I felt it getting a little weak, and I backed off a bit," Romero said.

Since then, he has done long-tossing, but Romero said the problem developed when he threw from a mound.

"I throw on flat ground and long-toss and my arm feels great, but when I get to an angle from the mound, I can't finish my pitches, and that is when it grabs me a little," he said.

Romero said he was told that an MRI had not found any structural damage.

"I don't have any problem with my elbow as far as a ligament or anything like that," he said. "Apparently, it's the type of tendinitis that just takes time."

Romero said that he hadn't received a cortisone shot and would prefer not to get one, and that he was taking a cautious approach. He said the main problem was that he couldn't be effective throwing breaking pitches.

"I have to be in the right position to help the team win," he said. "If I go out there 50 to 70 percent, I am not going to help the team."

Seeing the problem. Leftfielder Raul Ibanez has been struggling. He hit .167 on the seven-game road trip this month, and entered last night's contest hitting .203 in August, with one home run and four RBIs.

"He is looking to follow the ball, and then it gets close to him and he has to stride real fast, and he's getting beat," Manuel said. "It's definitely his timing and rhythm, and he is working to get it."

Not complacent. Manuel refuses to take anything for granted despite the Phillies' comfortable lead in the National League East.

"Am I scared we will get caught? Hell, no," the manager said. "I think it's up to us to make sure we don't get caught. I said if we don't win the division, it's our own fault because we do have the best team."