Inside the Phillies: Phillies have reason to worry about Lidge
No worries, all is well, everything will be OK. That's the public stance the Phillies are taking right now as Brad Lidge attempts to return from multiple off-season surgeries (knee and elbow) and the acute case of ineffectiveness that left him with a 7.21 ERA and an 0-8 record last season.
No worries, all is well, everything will be OK.
That's the public stance the Phillies are taking right now as Brad Lidge attempts to return from multiple off-season surgeries (knee and elbow) and the acute case of ineffectiveness that left him with a 7.21 ERA and an 0-8 record last season.
"It has taken a little longer, but he did have a major surgery and it's going to take some time, sometimes," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "A lot of it depends on how guys heal. It has been a little slower."
The Phillies want to believe, even have to believe, that the Lidge who eventually returns from his current rehab assignment will resemble something much closer to the 2008 model than the 2009 one. They have $24.5 million invested in that hopeful outcome.
Amaro insisted that the Phillies aren't concerned that last year was the beginning of the end for Lidge.
"Not for him," Amaro said. "Not at this stage of his career. He's still got a live body. He's still got a live arm. For me, it's just a matter of him getting his arm strength back."
Given the quality of the man - nobody could have handled the adversity Lidge dealt with last season as well as he did - we should all hope that Amaro is right. Given some recent baseball history, however, there is reason to worry that all is not well, and everything will not be OK.
The game is littered with former late-inning relievers who disappeared around the same age or even younger than Lidge, 32. A lot of those cases also involve guys coming off seasons much like the one Lidge had in 2008, when he converted all 48 of his save opportunities and registered the final out of the World Series.
In spring training, Pat Gillick offered a reminder of one such case.
Duane Ward registered a career-high and league-leading 45 saves in his first and last season as the Toronto Blue Jays' full-time closer. Gillick, then the Toronto general manager and now a revered senior adviser in Philadelphia, said Ward's final pitch that year was a 95 m.p.h. fastball that retired the Phillies' Jim Eisenreich to end the top of the ninth inning in Game 6 of the 1993 World Series.
No need to remind anyone what happened after the top of the ninth.
What most Phillies fans probably don't remember is that Ward pitched in just four more big-league games after that.
"He came back the next year, and he couldn't lift his arm over his head," Gillick said. "Never found out why."
Ward was only 31, and his career was over.
Mitch Williams, at 28, recorded the final out of that same World Series - he needed to register two more - and that, too, triggered the rapid downward spiral of his career. Despite giving up that infamous home run to the Blue Jays' Joe Carter, the Wild Thing had a 3.40 ERA and 186 career saves before he was 29. After that, he had an 8.44 ERA and six saves. When he was 32, his career was over.
Rob Dibble, a color analyst for the Washington Nationals, can tell a similar story.
"At 31, I was done," he said.
That's why Dibble has some concerns about Lidge.
His biggest concern is that Lidge's physical problems also have taken a mental toll on the closer.
"Mentally, you have to prepare to get guys out and pitch," Dibble said. "If you don't have it 100 percent physically to go out there and make a certain pitch in a certain count, you're fighting two battles. You're not just fighting, 'Hey, I have to get out these guys in the ninth inning.' You're thinking about how your knee hurts, your arm hurts, your back hurts. When you have that many things to think about, sometimes that's too many."
Dibble, like Williams, was never effective after age 28.
"A pitching coach told me, 'As long as you're thinking about what you should do and not the hitter, it's very difficult to pitch,' " Dibble said. "That's why I retired."
Lidge's fastball in recent years - even last year - topped out around 95 m.p.h. Through spring training and during his current rehab, it has been around 91 m.p.h. Amaro believes that even if Lidge's fastball doesn't get back to 95, the closer can still be effective as long as he still has his fall-off-the-table slider.
"About 92 to 94 [for Lidge's fastball] is probably his comfort zone now," Amaro said. "If he's locating and he's throwing in that range . . . his out pitch is his slider. If that's still sharp and he's throwing that in the mid to upper 80s . . . once that comes back, he should be OK. That's the pitch that has really separated him from other guys."
Dibble agrees that Lidge doesn't need to throw 95 to remain a solid closer.
"You can always learn how to throw a sinker to go with your four-seam stuff," Dibble said. "You can always learn how to take something off your slider. What made me a lot tougher . . . when all the strikeouts were piling up before I went bad was that I was able to throw my slider at two different speeds. I had a get-me-over one at about 79 or 80, and then you had your out-pitch one, and then you still had your fastball. Ninety-one looks a lot better if you can drop something down at about 80."
The Phillies' public stance is that Lidge will be back and he will be good again. But you know they're not positive when pitching coach Rich Dubee won't even entertain the subject.
"I'm not answering that," Dubee snarled when asked about Lidge's velocity. "I'm expecting him to come back. We'll wait and see. If you want to speculate, go ahead, but I ain't speculating."