How bad does the (injury) bug bite?

Rollins When the Phillies showed up for spring training two months ago, it was difficult to imagine the team not winning the NL East for a fourth season in a row. With the core group heading into its athletic and physiological prime and the addition of Roy Halladay to the top of the rotation, the over/under on wins was placed at 95 by the swells in Vegas.

The Phillies will hit unlike no other Phillies team ever and they have a horse that has piled up at least 220 innings the past four years.

Truth is, things are so rosy with the Phillies as its hitters have bludgeoned the Nationals and Astros in the first seven games, that no one wants to jinx anything. Come on… why bring up something like the potential for injuries and be a mush? Why do that when the Phillies have used the schedule to their advantage in order to rush out to the best record in baseball?

Injuries are a tricky thing because no one in sports ever knows how the body is going to respond. Your calf injury recovers at a different rate than someone like Jimmy Rollins. See, as a shortstop whose speed and quickness is what helped get him to the big leagues in the first place, the calf muscle is that much more important. That’s the muscle that is the engine for Rollins. A balky calf means Rollins doesn’t go from first to third when Placido Polanco laces one to right field or goes from first to home when Chase Utley bangs one into the gap.

And without Rollins at the top of the batting order the entire dynamic of the offense gets knocked off kilter a bit.

Oh sure, even if it turns out that Rollins has a Grade 2 sprain of his calf like a source told’s Jim Salisbury on Monday and has to serve some time on the disabled list, the Phillies still will win the NL East. The same goes for Jayson Werth, who likely will miss a game or two with a sore hip that “grabbed” him during Monday’s victory over lowly Washington.

Thanks to some wise off-season acquisitions, the Phillies have Juan Castro to play short if Rollins goes out for a bit instead of Eric Bruntlett. The Phils also have Ben Francisco, Greg Dobbs or Ross Gload to play the outfield for Werth if he needs a few games off.

Sure, losing those players will sting a bit, but they only mask the real concern that could cause the 2010 season to blow up like one of those trick cigars in the cartoons.

The concern: what if Brad Lidge doesn’t get it back this year?

No, I’m no doctor and chances are I would have flunked out of medical school within a week of attending a single class. However, a late March cortisone shot into his sore right arm mixed with two rehab outings at Single-A in which he has allowed five runs, five hits, a walk and no strikeouts in 1 2/3 innings is attention grabbing.

Yes, Lidge is coming off yet another surgery—his third since joining the Phillies before the 2008 season—and it probably will take a bit for him to get back his strength. But what happens if he doesn’t get it back? Or let’s say he gets it back and turns in another year like he did in ’09 when he saved 31 games, but allowed 51 runs in 58 2/3 innings?

Then what?

Ryan Madson, the Phillies’ acting closer, says there are no worries on his end. In fact, he pointed out after getting his second save of the year on Monday, talk of a thin bullpen is an annual rite of spring around these parts.

If there is ever one thing guys like me like to pick at as if it’s a mealy old scab, it’s the Phils’ bullpen depth. Madson has noticed.

“Every year I've been here, it’s about the bullpen,” he said. “It’s our weakest link. You're going to have something that’s not like the lineup we've got.”

The thing about injuries is they give guys like Madson a chance. When they hear the chatter or the put-on panic about the team’s chances when a key player goes down it only serves to motivate. Besides, Madson says, the bullpen was another one of those areas where a couple of off-season acquisitions just might pan out. Veteran Jose Contreras is making the transition from starter to reliever and just might have the stuff to close out games if needed. Rule 5 guy Dave Herndon has been impressive in limited action.

So far this season the Phils’ relievers have allowed just three runs with 18 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings. That comes to a 1.33 ERA, which is second-best in the Majors.

“We’ve got plenty of arms out there that have been throwing the ball really well,” Madson said. “It will be nice when they get back, but for now, we've got good arms out there. We’re happy.”

There’s no reason not to be. Not yet, anyway. The Phillies have worked over the lowly Nats and Astros, but that will change soon when they get deeper into the schedule.

That’s when we find out just how costly those aches and pains really are.

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