Ryan Madson, the bullpen phone rings for thee

Madson On paper, two years removed, it looked like nothing more than a bad outing for a relief pitcher in a tight, late August game. What made this one particularly bad was that reliever Ryan Madson helped turn a sure win into an ugly defeat with just seven pitches.

August 28, 2008 was the date and the Phillies were six outs away from a win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Madson needed only to get through the eighth inning to hand off a ninth-inning lead to closer Brad Lidge. But those seven pitches resulted in a homer, a double and a single. Instead of giving Lidge a ninth-inning lead, Madson turned it over to Chad Durbin who quickly made the lead vanish.

But it wasn’t the performance that led to Madson’s season-changing moment… a veritable moment of clarity for the pitcher. It was the discussion afterwards with manager Charlie Manuel that turned it all around. Actually, in a discussion there was a give-and-take. In this one there was all give.

“I chewed his ass out,” Manuel said with a wry smile months after the moment and a few hours before Madson pitched a scoreless eighth inning in the clinching game of the NLCS. It must have worked, too, because Madson allowed just one run in the rest of regular season and three during the playoff run.

Of course Madson also worked hard on his shoulder exercises and received regular treatments with a chiropractor to help his fastball climb to 98-mph, which might have more to do with his big-time pitching down the stretch. Then again, every once in a while a guy needs to get chewed out. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it makes a helluva story.

Needless to say, there will not be any of those types of discussions this year. Madson doesn’t need it. Better yet, even though Madson spent a big chunk of the season on the disabled list as a result of a broken toe suffered when he kicked a chair after blowing a save chance in San Francisco[1], he won’t need to have any discussions with anyone about his performance.

“It’s been a perfectly normal year,” Madson said on Wednesday afternoon before the series finale against the Marlins at the Bank.

And that’s a good thing. Normal for Madson means he’s one of the top set-up men in the league, and maybe a guy who could take over as a closer sometime soon. In fact, Madson was Manuel’s closer for the first month of the season while Lidge was on the disabled list, and he finished off Tuesday night’s victory over the Marlins with 1 1/3 innings of work.

When Madson took over in a save situation in Wednesday night’s 10-6 victory, it was his 10th appearance in 13 days. That’s old-school workload. That’s Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage style, or at least the modern day facsimile of it.

“I always thought he could close games, but it’s just a matter of him feeling confident about himself and comfortable and having some success and adjusting to that role,” Manuel said.

“I think he’s getting there. The only way we’ll know is if we send him out there for a season and see if he can hold his own.”

In addition to it being a perfectly normal season, Madson says, “I feel fine” in regards to the work Manuel has piled on him. Based on the numbers, it’s impossible to argue considering he has worked 9 2/3 innings with 12 strikeouts and no earned runs in the last 10 outings.

In fact, Madson has been charged with an earned run in just one game going back to July 29, a span of 25 games. In that time the righty has pitched 25 innings, racked up 36 strikeouts with a win, a save and 10 holds.

But, as pitching coach Rich Dubee eluded, big deal.

“He’s been a big part of our success here. I’m not surprised,” Dubee said. “This is what the guy does.”

That’s not a bad trait to have for a pitcher. Madson gets called on to get outs and comes through without complaint or injury… unless he’s kicking the hell out of a chair. Actually, not only has Madson pitched in 10 games over the last 13 days, but he also has appeared in more games than any pitcher in the big leagues since July 26.

As it looks for the final 21 games of the season, it appears as if the Phillies want be shy about using Madson, either. Dubee says Madson appears to be “fresher” than most of his teammates in the ‘pen largely because of the time spent on the DL, but also because his repertoire of pitches appears to be so “lively.”

Plus, if the way Manuel used his relievers down the stretch in 2007 is any indication, Madson better have enjoyed his rest. With relatively few dependable relievers and a dogfight with the Mets in the NL East, Manuel used Brett Myers, Tom Gordon and J.C. Romero seemingly every game. Actually, Myers appeared in 16 games during September, including 12 of the last 16. Gordon made it into 18 games in the final month, including 13 of the final 16, and Romero got into 20 of the 27 September games and 17 of the final 22.

When the playoffs started, Romero got into every game, while Gordon and Myers appeared in two of the three.

Is that what’s in store for Madson? We’ll find out soon enough. In the meantime, the veteran right-hander seems to have stepped up his game to a higher level.


[1] Madson’s toe was broken into pieces as a result of his run-in with the chair in San Francisco. So imagine how hard that chair must have been kicked. Certainly each of us has kicked or punched a solid, inanimate object in a fit of anger really, really hard and rarely does it result in an injury, let alone a toe smashed into pieces. Moreover, Madson spent nearly three months on the disabled list with his toe injury… from kicking a chair! Anyone want to guess what the chair looked like afterwards?

Thinking inside the box

Nobody likes a second-guesser or a Monday morning quarterback. Those types swoop in after the fact and offer a told-you-so type of opinion that really is quite gutless. Where were they on the first guess, is what I want to know. For those of us struggling with the first guess, we need all the help we can get. If the second-guessers are so smart, jump in and help out the first time.

Second guessing is unoriginal and boring. But sports-type people have dined out on it for decades. That said, let’s dish a little on the eighth and ninth innings of the Phillies’ inexplicable, 2-1 loss to the Reds, shall we?

What, you think we’re too good for second-guessing Charlie Manuel.

Ha!

Actually, my second guess is very simple and uncomplicated. I am, at heart, a simpleton – maybe even a little naïve, but that’s a different story. If something is broken, fix it. Otherwise, leave it alone. Simple.

But with Brett Myers, a starter for his entire career until two days ago, the manager Charlie Manuel was victimized by some compartmental thinking on Friday night in Cincinnati. By compartmental thinking we mean the set-up man pitches the eighth inning and the so-called closer pitches the ninth inning and never shall the two overlap. On Friday that thinking cost the Phillies the game.

Brett Myers should have pitched the eighth and the ninth innings on Friday. It’s as simple as that. Tom Gordon, the closer for now, has struggled all season long and admits that he is a bit behind because he took a week off during spring training to have his shoulder checked out. He also seems to rely much more on his fastball as opposed to his go-to curve.

Plus, Gordon struggled to get a save against the Nationals just the day before and since Manuel said he was reluctant to use the so-called closer on back-to-back days after he struggled during the second-half of 2006 because of overuse, it seemed like using Myers for two innings was logical.

Besides, who says a closer can only pitch the ninth? Under Manuel, Gordon pitched 59 1/3 innings in 59 games in 2006, while Billy Wagner worked 77 2/3 innings in 75 appearances. Clearly that shows that closers work just one inning for Manuel.

Brett Myers doesn’t have to be so limited. He was a workhorse starter just this week who averaged close to seven innings per outing during his career. So what does it hurt if he closes out a game by going two innings? Gordon’s ego, perhaps? Please. At 4-11 the Phillies are long past worrying about such trivialities. The point is if Myers is going to be moved to the bullpen to pacify Jon Lieber (who pitched rather well as a starter on Friday night – looks like he was “comfortable” after pouting his way back into the rotation), he should be used as a weapon instead of just a cog in the machine.

Asked about it after the loss to the Reds, Manuel told reporters: “Right now, Gordon is our closer. He’s been a closer. We signed him to be a closer. . . . That’s something we haven’t even discussed, and in some ways there’s no need to discuss it. We’ve got to get him sharp. The stuff is there.”

Joe Torre uses Mariano Rivera for two-inning saves from time to time. Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Rich Gossage and Kent Tekulve (among others) pitched multiple innings as a matter of course during their work closing out games.

So why couldn’t Brett Myers do that on Friday night?