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Phillies' Contreras earns first save in win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE - For 22 years Jose Contreras started games, and he was very good at it. Fidel Castro was so fond of the Cuban pitcher's resilience that he nicknamed Contreras El Titan de Bronze.

MILWAUKEE - For 22 years Jose Contreras started games, and he was very good at it. Fidel Castro was so fond of the Cuban pitcher's resilience that he nicknamed Contreras El Titan de Bronze.

"I never thought in my career I'd be part of the bullpen," Contreras said. "I've always said, 'If I can't start a game, I'll go home.' "

On Saturday, Contreras earned the first save of his life, closing out the Phillies' 10-6 victory over Milwaukee. Immediately following the game, the Phils put their regular closer, Brad Lidge, back on the disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow. The second option at closer, Ryan Madson, is out until at least the all-star break with a broken toe.

Thirty-five games into the 2010 season, Jose Contreras is the new Phillies closer.

"If I have to close, I'm going to be ready to close every game," Contreras said. "I'm going to be ready for the phone call in the bullpen."

In other words, he's not going home yet.

Contreras became a full-time reliever late in the 2009 season with Colorado. When he signed with the Phillies in the off-season for one year and $1.5 million, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called it "a leap of faith."

In 15 games, Contreras has a 0.68 ERA and has struck out 18 batters with only two walks.

With injuries to the bullpen, the Phillies are hoping a little faith pays off now.

Lidge will be placed on the disabled list retroactive to May 10, meaning he is eligible to return May 25 for the beginning of a nine-game road trip. The Phillies are unsure whether he'll be ready by then. On Monday, Lidge will visit with doctors to decide if they will administer a cortisone shot or joint lubricant injection, or simply prescribe rest.

Lidge has already had a cortisone shot this season, at the end of spring training.

"There are treatments we can give for it, hopefully, exactly what we need," Lidge said. "It's frustrating it didn't go away on its own."

Lefthander Antonio Bastardo will be recalled from triple-A Lehigh Valley to replace Lidge.

For the immediate future, the job appears to be Contreras' to lose.

On Saturday, the Phillies had a 10-5 lead going into the ninth and asked Rule 5 pick David Herndon to record the final three outs. He got only one out, allowed a run, and put runners on second and third.

Manuel summoned Contreras, who walked the first batter he faced, George Kottaras, bringing the tying run to the plate with one out. Contreras' first two pitches to Rickie Weeks were balls, prompting pitching coach Rich Dubee to make a trip to the mound.

When Dubee and the infielders departed the mound, only catcher Paul Hoover and shortstop Wilson Valdez remained with Contreras, setting up a meeting almost no one would have imagined with the game on the line. Hoover talked strategy with Contreras as Valdez translated.

"That's teamwork," Valdez said.

The next three pitches were strikes, with Weeks whiffing on a 95 m.p.h. fastball to strike out. Contreras then pounded Craig Counsell with fastballs. The last pitch of the game was a 95 m.p.h. heater on the outside corner that Counsell looked at for strike three.

After the game, Contreras sat at his locker in shorts with his right arm heavily wrapped in ice. His teammate, countryman, and close friend Danys Baez emerged and the two shared laughs. Then reporters began asking questions as Baez translated.

"He says it's been easier for him because I've been helping him get ready mentally and physically," Baez said.

Contreras smiled and fist-pounded Baez.

"Things have changed - I'm part of the bullpen and I love it," Contreras said. "And I can see how it helps the team."