Everyone else is injured, so Ryan Madson finally gets a shot to be Phillies’ closer

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Ryan Madson has been one of the best, most underrated relievers in baseball since moving to the bullpen full time in 2007, but because he didn’t thrive in a few brief opportunities to close games in previous seasons the Phillies have avoided giving him another chance as closer.

Philadelphia wasted no time choosing Jose Contreras as the new closer when Brad Lidge was placed on the disabled list in late March with a shoulder injury, but now that Contreras has joined him on the DL with a bum elbow manager Charlie Manuel and company have little choice but to reluctantly hand ninth-inning duties to Madson.

I’m hoping he thrives as a fill-in closer, not because I have any sort of allegiance to the Phillies but because it would help quiet the notion that the ninth inning is some sort of mythical inning where only a special breed of pitcher can record three outs with a lead of 1-3 runs. Madson is an excellent reliever with a lengthy track record of success in the seventh and eighth innings, and if given an extended opportunity to sink or swim in the ninth inning he can thrive there as well.

The only question is whether the Phillies will stick with Madson if he blows an early save or two, because anything but absolute success in the role will lead to fans and media members banging the “he’s just not a closer” drum. And unfortunately Madson isn’t fully healthy either, with Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reporting that he “has been battling some arm soreness” and “required days off on Thursday and Sunday.”

All bets are off if Madson is at less than 100 percent, but if he’s healthy the Lidge and Contreras injuries may not be such horrible things if they ultimately force the Phillies to do something they should have done a while ago and give Madson an extended tryout as closer.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.