THE LAST TIME Brad Lidge struggled through a rough season, an opposing player pulled him aside and informed him that he was tipping his pitches. The closer shared the story during the All-Star Game festivities last season. And while he said it was not the sole reason he struggled in 2006, posting a 5.28 ERA for the Astros, he admitted it was likely a contributing factor.
But Lidge doesn't believe he is doing anything blatant to telegraph his pitches this season, although his 7.18 ERA heading into last night's game has led many to speculate otherwise. Lidge said he has looked at video and has not noticed anything that might inform opposing hitters whether he was preparing to throw a fastball or a slider.
At the All-Star break last year, Lidge said the "tip" he was sending to opposing hitters in 2006 involved the height at which he held his glove before his delivery.
"There doesn't appear to be a whole lot of that going on, although some days it sure seems like they may be keying in on one pitch," said Lidge, who has blown 10 saves and seen the bulk of his duties as closer transferred to setup man Ryan Madson. "That said, it's always tough. When you're having a bad year, you wonder about that a little bit."
Certainly, members of the Phillies organization have wondered. But general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. also said that he does not believe the star closer is tipping pitches, at least not in a manner evident on the vast amount of videotape members of the organization study daily.
"We do not see that," Amaro said. "There are other things we look at, obviously, mechanically, but we don't feel that it's an issue. Everybody tries to get an advantage and he may be doing it; he may be doing something we don't see, but I doubt it. I don't think that's the case. But we look at video all the time."
But while Lidge says he isn't blatantly tipping his pitches, he thinks his inconsistent mechanics might be allowing hitters to see the ball in his hand earlier than they were seeing it last year, enabling them to better recognize the pitch he is delivering.
"I think, more likely, I might be doing something in my delivery; not every time, but enough when I'm throwing a slider that it's easier to see," said Lidge, who has at times altered his mechanics after a bout with knee inflammation sent him to the disabled list in June. "It's easier to see out of my hand. Maybe my leg kick isn't as high. Even that can become an issue where if I'm not hiding the ball because my leg kick isn't as high as last year, then they can see it just a hair earlier. Obviously, this year with my knee I've battled a ton tinkering with my mechanics."
Both Lidge and Amaro agree that when he struggles, his chief problem is command. Lidge said the same inconsistent mechanics that have led to control problems might be allowing hitters to recognize his pitches easier, rather than a blatant "tip" he might be sending.
"I don't think [tipping] is a big thing," Lidge said. "I just think they are seeing it a lot better off me this year, probably more because of mechanical flaws than anything."
After lefthander J.A. Happ threw 20 pitches in a bullpen session yesterday, the Phillies announced that he would indeed start tomorrow in Atlanta. Happ, who strained a ribcage muscle before a scheduled Labor Day start against the Astros and missed his next two outings, has allowed three runs in 14 2/3 innings against the Braves this season.
The Phillies activated Greg Dobbs yesterday after the reserve corner infielder/outfielder spent close to a month on the disabled list with a strained calf. Now, they hope the stroke he displayed last season while hitting .355 as a pinch-hitter returns. While Dobbs has performed well in 26 starts this season, hitting .329 with four home runs and 15 RBI, he is just 7-for-45 (.156) with one home run and three RBI as a pinch-hitter. The good news is his calf feels healthy.
"I'm as close to [100 percent] as I'm going to get," Dobbs said.
Lefthander J.C. Romero, who hasn't pitched since July 19 (forearm tendinitis), threw a 25-pitch bullpen session yesterday and said he was extremely pleased with the results. Romero expects to throw another bullpen session this weekend in Atlanta before being activated.
"Let's put it this way: Today, I start packing," said Romero, who hopes to pitch in five games before the playoffs. "If I had a setback today, I would have shut it down for the season."
Romero said he probably will not be throwing in the mid-90s, but that he expects to be effective enough to contribute in the postseason, should the Phillies get there.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.