Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manuel Continues to Handle the Lidge Situation Correctly


Charlie Manuel is not the most eloquent speaker in baseball. He does not possess the ability to captivate the media with articulate analysis, wit and an air of supreme confidence like some other managers. Since coming to Philadelphia, he has been often questioned in regard to his tactical, in-game decision making. But, because the qualities and skills that he does possess as a leader are often not visibly apparent, it could be easy to overlook the often masterful work that he continues to do in leading this club.

Every year brings new situations and new challenges. Some are more sustained and publicized (such as Jimmy Rollins' first half slump, Cole Hamels' inconsistencies and the Jamie Moyer demotion), while others are more subtle series to series, game to game, inning by inning. The most currently relevant example is Manuel's handling of the season-long challenge revolving around Brad Lidge, which has reached somewhat of a nadir over the past couple days.

First, on Tuesday evening, Manuel gathered the courage within to act on his gut instincts and step out of the dugout to make his way to the mound in the ninth inning. This time he was not heading out to summon Lidge to close out a 2-run game, but rather to call for Ryan Madson to bail out Lidge from a bases loaded, one out jam. Last evening, with the successful decision and the resulting post game media probing still in his mind, Manuel opted for Madson to preserve a 6-5 lead in the ninth.

Many media types and fans alike have been calling for a change with Lidge, ranging from demotion out of the closer's role to demotion to the minor's to an out right release. Manuel took the heat and did the right thing- he stuck with Lidge. And, even though he chose a different course this time, it does not appear that he has abandoned his efforts to artfully steer Lidge back on track.

Manuel's greatest strengths relate to his instinctual ability to understand human nature and the sometimes fragile psyches of players. Many mistakingly believe that because players make a great deal of money, they somehow are immune to pressures, self doubt and the need for positive reinforcement. Manuel gets that team chemistry includes the right players, the right personalities and managing them the right way. He understands how to massage situations, provide much needed support, bolster confidence and at times provide the proverbial "kick in the butt."

Charlie made the right decisions in Washington this week. The collective team needed to win right now, especially coming off a four game sweep at the hands of the Astros and the Marlins gaining ground. Also, Lidge's command was so far off on Tuesday evening, despite his convictions to show support and get his closer mentally righted, Manuel could see this was almost surely headed to an 11th blown save.

And, although many would disagree, Manuel has handled the situation correctly all year long. The best scenario for the team was, and still is, to have Lidge regain the air of confidence that powered him to that 48-for-48 magical season that culminated with him kneeling triumphantly on the Citizen Bank Park turf. After all, we are only months removed from "Lights Out Lidge" and the radar gun provides ample evidence that the physical ability is still there in 2009. Until now, the only viable replacement would have been Madson, and he had not exactly prospered when given the opportunity to close.

The Phillies lead in the standings has also provided some additional leeway that might have otherwise forced a different approach. Probably Manuel's only mistake was sending Lidge out to pitch for a fourth consecutive day in Pittsburgh, which resulted in a walk-off loss and a blip in the pitcher's positively trending confidence level.

As Lidge has struggled throughout the season, Manuel has not just stuck to script, but has rather creatively looked for ways to put him in situations stacked for success. He has also continued to outwardly back him in words and in action. At various times, discussions have mentioned issues related to mechanics and nagging injuries, but Manuel has not lost sight that the most critical element is Lidge's mental state of mind.

None of us knows where this goes from here. Certainly, much of what transpires will be dependent upon the players involved and how they respond and perform. The return of a healthier, harder throwing Brett Myers, along with Madson, gives the team options. Expect Manuel to persist in his attempts to restore Lidge's confidence, but also expect to see any of the three called on to close games. The ideal situation is for Lidge to get his legs under him (to form a dynamic bullpen with Madson, Myers, Romero, Park and Eyre) as the team heads towards another post season. Of course, the artful way that Charlie handles the situation will be most important, as they need to first get there.

No comments:

Post a Comment