When Ryan Madson has received opportunities to close games in his career, he has struggled in the role. While he would convert a save occasionally in his chances during the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the right-hander was highly unreliable. He blew a number of saves, and the Phillies coaches began to doubt that he had the mentality to be anything more then a set-up man.
In March, the Phillies learned that Brad Lidge would be out until at least June, they opted to go with Jose Contreras as the interim closer until Lidge was ready to return. After it was announced that Contreras would be the closer, both general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and pitching coach Rich Dubee publically expressed their lack of confidence in Madson’s ability to close. Amaro said “The game speeds up on Madson in the ninth inning, Ryan has not proven to us that he can be a closer in the major leagues.”
Madson himself expressed his desire to get another opportunity to close and Dubee said “What did he do, take a crash course in how to close in the offseason?”
After Contreras went on the disabled list, Madson was placed in the role out of necessity, and he has responded better then anyone could have hoped for. He has converted all eight of his save opportunities, including two consecutive one-run saves. The California native hasn’t been rattled by runners getting on base, and has been able to bear down and get tough outs.
If Madson continues to have success closing games, should he remain in the role even when Lidge and Contreras return? If he has truly overcome the issues that plagued him in the past, then I believe that the job should be his to lose.
Madson may finally be establishing himself as a closer, so why remove him from the role if he is performing it at a high level? Lidge and Madson’s contracts expire after the season, and if the Phillies can determine now that 30-year old reliever is capable of closing, they can factor that into their plans for the next offseason.
It’s time to give Madson a good, long look at the closer’s role. He’s enjoying great success right now, but the real test for him will be how he reacts after he blows a save. If he eventually falters, the Phillies have several alternative options in Lidge and Contreras. If he succeeds, the Phillies will have found the long-term answer for the position.