Lidge: Poise, not power

Phillies closer Brad Lidge celebrates after getting the final out in Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.
Phillies closer Brad Lidge celebrates after getting the final out in Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.

The Phils' closer is pitching smarter, not harder, in his late-season revival.

Posted: September 24, 2010

Fifty-five days ago, Brad Lidge blew a save. After shaking off catcher Carlos Ruiz's preference for a slider twice, Lidge threw Washington's Ryan Zimmerman a fastball - a pitch he said he had used with success against Zimmerman before.

But this time, the fastball was 92 m.p.h., not the 96, 95 or 94 that Lidge previously threw. It was poorly located. Zimmerman crushed it for a three-run home run and a 7-5 win for the Nationals on July 31.

"I remember that night," Lidge said Wednesday, just minutes after his latest display in a stunning renaissance.

The Phillies' closer saved all three wins over the Atlanta Braves this week. He faced 11 batters and retired nine, three via strikeouts. His slider, the pitch that has defined his career - from the hanging one that Albert Pujols famously destroyed in a 2005 playoff game to the magical perfect season of 2008, to the misery of a 7.21 ERA in 2009 - is as good as it has ever been, he says.

But that is not why Lidge has a 0.83 ERA and 16 saves in 17 chances since the night Zimmerman homered off him. That night, Lidge faced reporters in a quiet visitors' clubhouse at Nationals Park and finally admitted that the lack of velocity on his fastball was a concern.

"It's something," he said, "I've got to learn to pitch with."

Asked Wednesday about that moment, Lidge smiled.

"I had to reanalyze myself," Lidge said. "The next day, I came out and said, 'I'm pitching today.' Sometimes you make changes and you shouldn't. Sometimes, you make the right ones."

Sixteen saves later, Lidge still is grateful for that night. He was stubborn about losing velocity on his fastball. At first, he believed it was temporary, a by-product of the two off-season surgeries that caused him to miss a majority of the season's first two months. But after Zimmerman's home run, Lidge had a 5.57 ERA. He was healthy. Something had to change.

"If that game wouldn't have happened," Lidge said, "I probably would not be doing as well these last two months."

This season, Lidge's average fastball velocity is 91.8 m.p.h., according to FanGraphs, a statistical website. In 2009, it was 93.6. In 2008, it was 94.3. In 2007, it was 95.4. Compensating for that loss in velocity, Lidge has had to adjust how he uses the fastball.

"It's location," Lidge said. "It's being smart [about] when to throw it and where to throw it. My slider is the same as it has been in the past."

And yes, that is the point to remember. Lidge throws his slider 59.6 percent of the time. It is his most important pitch. It is his out pitch.

But because Lidge throws just two pitches, the slider is no good without an effective fastball that can at least keep hitters honest. Right now, Lidge said his fastball has more movement than it has before. It may be slower than it was, but he can locate it better.

"I'm pitching as opposed to just throwing," Lidge said. "It's big."

Since Aug. 1, Lidge is throwing his fastball even less than he did before. His average velocity since Aug. 1 is 90.8 m.p.h. The fastball is a strike only 43.8 percent of the time he throws it, well down from earlier this season (57.5 percent).

But that's the point. Lidge won't allow himself to be beaten on his second-best pitch. Instead, if he can throw it consistently enough to set up the slider, the fastball does its job.

"He's commanding the fastball," pitching coach Rich Dubee said.

"He looked as good as I've seen him," manager Charlie Manuel said after Monday's game "It does a hell of a lot for us."

The day after he allowed the home run to Zimmerman, Manuel still proclaimed Lidge as his closer, and he recorded a save on 10 pitches.

"That's really what makes this game so great," Lidge said then.

The same could be said for the hiccup that humbled Lidge.

Extra bases

Jimmy Rollins (strained right hamstring) participated in a simulated game at Citizens Bank Park during Thursday's off day. Rollins did not run, but he saw live pitching for the first time since being injured Sept. 8. The Phillies expect him back before the postseason.

Lidge's Closing Arguments

On July 31, Phillies reliever Brad Lidge gave up a walk-off, three-run homer to Jeff Zimmerman in the Nationals' 7-5 win, giving him an ERA of 5.57. Since then, he has been superb, substituting velocity for location with his fastball and dominating with his slider. He has lowered his ERA to 3.16; the Phillies were 11-2 in games in which he pitched in August and 10-0 in September.

Here's his line for the last two months:

August      12.1      5      1      1      1      12      8      1

September   9.1      4      2      1      6      10      8      0

Season      42.2      30      16      15      21      49      26      5


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at 215-854-2928


Follow him on Twitter @magelb

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