After receiving an MRI yesterday, it was determined that Brad Lidge’s injury woes will continue: he has a strain in the back of his right shoulder rotator cuff. In other words, according to Courier Post Online, this is equivalent to a tear, and he could even be out until July.

This is far from good news that the Phillies have received throughout this year’s spring training. Domonic Brown broke his hand after ending a hitless streak of over 15 at-bats. Chase Utley is out indefinitely with tendinitis in his right knee. Placido Polanco hyperextended his left elbow, on which he received surgery this offseason. Roy Oswalt suffered a scare when he was hit by a Manny Ramirez line drive.

And now, after returning from bicep tendinitis, Brad Lidge—who was healthy for spring training for the first time in a long time—remains on the list, which at this point seems endless.

With every injury comes a fill-in, and in this case like all others, the Phillies’ closer role is currently vacant.

While the temporary replacement of Brad Lidge has yet to be finalized, manager Charlie Manuel thinks that the role should and will go to Jose Contreras. Ryan Madson was in the running, but Manuel, among others, believes that he will do better in the set-up role for now, where he has consistently pitched well over the past few seasons.

Before we think more on this likely decision, let’s take a look at Contreras’ role with the Phillies last season.

In his first season with the Phillies last year, Contreras also pitched in his first season as a reliever. He made 67 appearances in relief last season, more than any other Phillie. In 56.2 innings of work, Contreras posted a 6-4 record with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He also recorded 13 holds and yes, four saves. He also struck out 57 batters who faced him.

Not bad considering his age (38 last season) and amount of appearances, is it?

Although the closer role is much different than a relieving or even a set-up role, let’s take a look at Brad Lidge’s stats from last season.

Lidge, who spent a long stint on the DL last season, had a record of 1-1 in 50 appearances comprised of 45.2 innings of work. In that amount of work, Lidge posted a 2.96 ERA and struck out 52, posted a 1.23 WHIP and 27 saves.

Take a look at the ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP. These stats between the two are oddly similar. And while innings pitched, record, appearances, and saves are incomparable (due to injury and different roles), the comparable stats are very close to each other. Although ERA is a bit more distant that Ks and WHIP, 38 points isn’t too far off.

So the question now is this: will Jose Contreras be able to handle the temporary role of closer?

There are arguments on both sides. One could argue that he can because he did so well as a reliever and closer last season, and the fact that he was 38 years old shows he’s durable and can continue posting such stats. In fact, both pitchers allowed the same amount of home runs (five), and Contreras actually allowed fewer walks than Lidge in more innings of work—Lidge allowed 24 walks; Contreras allowed only 16.

On the other hand, Contreras only has one season of relief work under his belt and his ERA is a bit too high for a reliever. He could also be drilled this way: there is only one closer on the team, and there are four or five relievers. Relievers can be split up by day and batter; closers must face all batters in the ninth inning in order to record the save.

And then there’s more. Since the rotation will most likely go deep into games—at least seven or eight innings per game—only a reliever or two will be used, and the closer will be used often. If Contreras had to pitch three or four out of five games, would he be able to handle such stress on his arm? Remember that he was a reliever for the first time last season and would be called upon maybe every three days. Starters are called upon every five days. An average closer could be called upon four of five days. That’s a lot of work.

If the cons ultimately outweigh the pros, Ryan Madson could look like a great option. He’s in a contract year and he’s got to deliver. If he shines and Contreras falls, then this might be the golden opportunity for Ryan Madson to nab the closer role and more money for the 2012 season. Madson, who’s been a reliever for most of his career, knows how to handle the eighth (and somewhat the ninth) inning situation through much experience. Could he end up as the Phillies’ closer?

For the meantime, Phillies fans’ minds are wondering whether Contreras is the right decision for the closer role.

Is it the right move?

Only time will tell.

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