WASHINGTON - Charlie Manuel still views Brad Lidge as an excellent closer, and he plans on shifting the bullpen dynamic this month with the goal of fixing Lidge in time for the playoffs.
But if Lidge does not improve, others will use September to audition and prepare for the postseason job. What had become gradually clear this week was made official in a meeting after Wednesday's game: Lidge is no longer the Phillies' sole closer, though he could regain total control of the job this year.
Last night provided the first opportunity for Lidge in his new role, which he hopes is temporary. Pitching in the eighth with the Phils behind, 8-2, to Washington, he allowed one hit and struck out two in a scoreless inning.
In the visiting manager's office at Nationals Park after Ryan Madson earned the save in Wednesday's 6-5 win over Washington, Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee informed Lidge of a change in the back of the bullpen.
"I don't see us using him in the seventh or eighth inning," Manuel said. "I look at him as a closer. For me, that's kind of where he fits. I see him pitching once he needs work. If we're behind in the game or we're ahead or something by a good margin, we'll get him to make sure he pitches live in the game and things. That's kind of how I look at it."
Though Manuel did not name them, Madson and Brett Myers are the likely candidates to close games. Myers was unavailable Wednesday after pitching three consecutive days.
Beyond that, specifics remained fuzzy. "It'll be what it's going to be," Manuel said. "That's the way I look at it. I see where he can be our everyday closer again."
Lidge said he agreed with Manuel's approach and expected to regain his job. His summary of Manuel's message: "Be ready to close a game on any night, because that's how he's still viewing me. But also be ready to throw in different scenarios, because we want to get you locked in before the postseason. We want to use the last three weeks constructively.
"It doesn't need to be a save situation. Obviously, I'm ready to throw in those. But if we're up by six runs, down by six runs, I feel like I'm very close to where I need to be, and it wouldn't hurt to get a couple more outings. That's really it."
The eternally upbeat Lidge said Manuel's approach was more nuanced than Phil Garner's when the then-manager of the Houston Astros shuffled Lidge in and out of the ninth-inning job in 2006 and 2007.
"In Houston, it was either you didn't have the job or you did have the job. Here, right now, it's: 'Listen, you're still going to be our guy, but we've got to make sure we get your work in also.' "
Because Lidge's confidence clearly affects his performance at times, Manuel risked shattering the pitcher with a demotion and losing him for the rest of the season, if not longer. But Lidge appeared to understand his manager's intent and did not perceive it as doubt in his ability to close.
"I told him, 'Listen, whatever you need me to do, I'll be willing to take the ball any time,' " Lidge said.
Manuel stressed the importance of righting Lidge. "We're talking about a guy who was 48 for 48" in save chances last season, he said, "and we hadn't been to a World Series in a long time, and we hadn't won one for 28 years. We're talking about a guy who has been inconsistent this year, but I'm definitely not giving up on him as a closer."
Up in the Eyre
Lefthander Scott Eyre underwent an MRI exam and had dye injected in his left elbow yesterday, and doctors found a "loose body" that was causing him pain, assistant general manager Scott Proefrock said. The reliever will be unavailable for several days, but Proefrock said the Phils had not determined anything beyond that.