Ready In a ‘Flash’

By David Murphy
Updated: February 27, 2008

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tom Gordon wants to make one thing clear: He’ll do anything. Anything. He’ll close games. He’ll set up games. Heck, give him the ball and he’ll start them, too.

When a man has seen his career flash before his eyes, as the man they call Flash has, he learns quickly to set aside the pride of his youth.

In a perfect world, Brad Lidge wouldn’t have undergone a second offseason knee surgery Monday, and Gordon wouldn’t have his title as closer restored to him via injury default.

But Lidge is out three to six weeks, and the Phillies’ season opener is 32 days away. And Gordon says that, for the first time since he embarked on an All-Star campaign in 2006, he’s ready.

“I’ve done this before,” the righthander said.

Gordon’s health problems have been well-documented. He started last season as the Phillies’ closer and made nine appearances before going on the disabled list with a strained rotator cuff. He missed most of May and all of June, later acknowledging he had been pitching with a partially torn labrum, a condition that still exists today.

Monday, he shed new light on those struggles, saying he has actually had shoulder problems since the All-Star break in 2006, and that he seriously considered having surgery to repair the labrum.

“It’s hard as heck to say I was bothered from the All-Star Game on,” said Gordon, who turned 40 in November, “but I was.”

After a doctor recommended that Gordon take time off last season to rest, he reflected on a career that he feared might have been drawing to a close. But after rejoining the bullpen at the end of July, he found himself rejuvenated.

Gordon appeared in 18 of the Phillies’ last 28 games, going 1-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his final 15 appearances while playing a key role in the team’s late-season surge to the National League East title.

In the offseason, he revamped his workout program, hooked up with a new personal trainer, and reported to training camp feeling better than he has since he saved 34 games in 2006.

Every time he pitched last spring, Gordon said, his arm hurt. Now, two weeks into spring training, that pain is gone.

“Right now, the main thing is I am healthy,” said Gordon, who is entering his 20th season in the majors. “I feel good, I’m happy with where I am, and whatever this team needs, I feel loyal to them. I feel like I want to do whatever I can, I’ll help them.”

Gordon said he worked all offseason with the intent of competing to regain his spot as the team’s closer. When the Phillies acquired Brad Lidge in a trade with the Astros, Gordon realized the organization was counting on him more as a setup man.

If Lidge’s recovery does last into the season, Gordon is more than confident he is healthy enough to serve as the team’s go-to closer.

“That’s the way my body feels right now,” he said. “Last year, I couldn’t have done it. There was no possible way you could have asked me to pitch last year until around the end of the season.”