CLEARWATER, Fla. - No matter who assumes the role of Phillies closer between Ryan Madson and Jose Contreras because of Brad Lidge's injury, the team has another hole to fill. It's simple math, as manager Charlie Manuel explained.

"We have two guys there," Manuel said Friday. "We had three. Now we have two."

It's not the eighth or ninth inning where Lidge's indefinite absence could hurt the most. The trickle-down effect means the Phillies must find a new way to handle the seventh inning, where Contreras was likely to pitch.

And with Chad Durbin, who handled many of the middle innings for the previous three seasons, in Cleveland, the best answer is not clear.

There is Danys Baez, who had a very forgettable 2010 but has improved his consistency in keeping the ball down this spring, pitching coach Rich Dubee said. There is J.C. Romero, but he is best used these days as a lefthanded specialist. There are youngsters Antonio Bastardo and David Herndon, but they are largely unproven in a regular bullpen role.

"We're still sorting that out," Dubee said.

If anything, the team's bullpen appears set, as Scott Mathieson and Mike Zagurski were optioned to minor-league camp Saturday morning. That leaves seven healthy relievers in camp.

But Dubee said nothing has been decided.

"We're not done yet," Dubee said. "We still have a few things in the works. This isn't our club yet."

That could be smoke and mirrors, but the Phillies did make sure to get another look Saturday at righthander Michael Stutes. Stutes, 24, was reassigned to minor-league camp on March 18, but the Phillies were thrilled with what he showed in early Grapefruit League play.

Against Toronto on Saturday, Stutes struck out two and pitched around a Luis Castillo error to finish a scoreless seventh inning.

"We're still looking," Dubee said of adding another appearance for Stutes. "We're not finalized."

Even with Durbin last season, the seventh inning was the worst for the Phillies. Opponents managed an .808 OPS against, the highest in any inning. (First inning was next, a .750 OPS against.)

In 2009, the seventh inning was the team's best (a .664 OPS against and 3.47 ERA). And in 2008, the seventh inning was also the team's best (a .635 OPS against and a 2.61 ERA).

The seventh inning can be tricky, mainly because it's usually when a starting pitcher is tiring and a reliever might enter with runners on base. Last season, Durbin faced 123 batters in the seventh, by far the most of any Phillies reliever. Romero was second with 47, and Herndon was third with 46.

Herndon spent the entire 2010 season on the roster because of his status as a Rule 5 pick. But he presents an intriguing option this season. Remember, in 2008, Durbin began as the long reliever and mop-up man - essentially the role Herndon played last season - only to emerge as the seventh-inning man.

"Chad did a great job for us over the years," Dubee said. "But I think we're capable of filling that role."

Herndon is unscored upon in eight of his 10 outings this spring. His sinker was his best (and sometimes only) pitch in 2010. It creates a lot of ground balls. He also has improved his slider.

"It's much more consistent, much more repeatable," Dubee said. "It has more depth to it."

The pitching coach said he believes in the current relievers - even if he's not willing to acknowledge that the staff is finalized.

"I'm comfortable with our bullpen," Dubee said. "We've lost Lidge in the past, and guys have stepped up and done a good job. It's tough to go bonkers over our bullpen because of our starting rotation. Everyone goes haywire over our starting rotation - and rightfully so. But I don't think our bullpen is chopped liver by any means."

Extra bases. Luis Castillo reached base three times (two singles, one walk) Saturday and has been on base in six of his last nine plate appearances. However, he did make an error on a routine grounder in the seventh inning. "He's under the gun," bench coach Pete Mackanin said. "It's not easy for him, but it's not easy for us to make a decision, either. It's a tough call." . . . Third baseman Placido Polanco (hyperextended left elbow) did not play Saturday and was examined by team physician Michael Ciccotti. Polanco will play Sunday. ... With one home game remaining, the Phillies have set a franchise record for spring-training attendance with 149,758 fans.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com.
Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb