Lidge, Romero on track to return to Phils

PHILADELPHIA -- Brad Lidge is nearing a return to the Philadelphia Phillies, though he may not immediately assume his closer role.

Lidge has been pitching in minor league games in Florida while recovering from offseason operations on his knee and elbow. He was in Philadelphia on Thursday to receive his NL championship ring before the series finale against Washington.

Lidge was 48 for 48 in save opportunities, including playoffs, in 2008, helping the Phillies win the World Series. He struggled last season, with a major league-high 11 blown saves.

Ryan Madson has filled in for Lidge and has two saves in his first two tries. It's possible the Phillies will ease Lidge back into closing once he returns. He began the 2008 season on the disabled list and was perfect that year.

"In '08 when I came back, there was a game or two when I wasn't closing," Lidge said. "This year, missing a lot more and everyone else is taking care of business in their roles, I'd expect to maybe ease into it is my guess. It depends on what we need. I'll be more than happy to do whatever."

Left-handed reliever J.C. Romero is even closer to returning after having surgery on his elbow last year. Romero is the team's primary lefty in the bullpen and has been a setup man.

Romero tossed two encouraging innings on Tuesday in Florida and expects to make his next appearance at Double-A Reading or Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

"Everything I've been doing has been going well. My velocity and everything is going pretty good," Romero said. "Whenever they tell me, 'Hey, we need you,' then I'll start pitching. My job is to get ready and stay focused mentally. I'm doing that right now."

Despite missing two top relievers, Philadelphia's bullpen was outstanding until giving up six runs in 3 2/3 innings in a 7-5 loss to Washington on Thursday. The relievers were 1-1 with a 1.30 ERA in the first eight games.

Lidge, who received a cortisone shot in spring training, said his arm strength has improved and he's completely healthy. He's planning to make at least one more appearance in Florida before getting a few rehab assignments at Reading or Lehigh Valley.

"I'd like to definitely be back before May," Lidge said. "I know we go on a road trip, but I'd like to be back by that next homestand for sure. I think we can do that."

The Phillies open a 10-game homestand April 30.