Slowly but surely, the bullpen the Phillies hoped to have entering the final week of spring training is beginning to take shape.
Longtime closer Brad Lidge, sidelined with a shoulder injury since the final week of March, threw his first bullpen session since taking his rehab program to Clearwater, Fla. Fellow veteran Jose Contreras, shut down with an elbow injury a month ago, threw two innings in a minor league rehab game for Triple-A Lehigh Valley and is set to rejoin the Phillies before the weekend.
In the absence of Lidge (the team's closer the last three seasons) and Contreras (the team's closer the first three weeks of this season), Ryan Madson has matured into the new, trusted right arm in the ninth inning. Madson had a 13-game shutout string snapped Tuesday, when he gave up a three-run double in the ninth inning of the Phillies' 6-3 loss to the Reds.
But Madson remains 9-for-9 in save opportunities and showed a veteran's resolve following the game, perhaps the final hurdle in the maturation of a big-league closer.
"I'm already past it," Madson said. "If it would have been five years ago I would have been hiding somewhere. I'm ready to start another roll."
Before the 30-year-old, soon-to-be free agent Madson entered, three of the Phillies' younger and more inexperienced relievers also continued their major league development. David Herndon, Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo allowed one hit in three shutout innings to keep the game within striking distance for the Phillies offense.
During the first two months of the season when the Phils bullpen has dealt with injuries -- Lidge, Contreras and left-hander J.C. Romero, too -- the younger bullpen arms have been asked to pitch big innings and have responded, too.
"The more experience they get, the better we think they'll be," manager Charlie Manuel said.
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