Those sliders in his scoreless inning of work for the Reading Phillies yesterday brought him a lot closer.
"It wasn't his best, nasty ones, but he threw them for strikes," R-Phils manager Mark Parent said. "His arm speed's real good. His velocity isn't what it used to be, but I don't think anybody's worried about his velocity. They're worried about that slider. When he's not trying to do too much with that slider, he's getting strikeouts. He's getting swinging strikes. And when it's put in play, it's not well-hit."
Lidge allowed no runs off two hits with two strikeouts yesterday, serving 13 strikes among his 14 pitches. It was the first time this season he has pitched in back-to-back games. He expects to pitch again Wednesday at Class A Lakewood. If he is effective and healthy, he expects to come off the disabled list on Friday when the Phillies come off the road.
His fastball still isn't singing - it is hovering around the mid-80s - but he at least can predict where it is going to go.
"I'm trying to put the ball where I want. I feel like that goal has been accomplished," Lidge said.
He knows he cannot survive in the majors with a middling fastball. That's the project on Wednesday.
"I'm going to try to get a little more on my fastball," he said, then hope the charge from pitching in the majors adds another mph or so. "When I get back to Philly, there will be extra adrenaline to give me a boost. I was happy to get through these 2 days with everything in check."
He finished the inning with another perfect slider to shortstop Jose Pirela, with the same result; a strikeout, looking.
"My slider progressed faster than my fastball. That's my bread-and-butter pitch. I need to be able to throw that in and out, up and down,'' Lidge said. "When I went through my good run last year, that's a pitch I used as much as my fastball."
Had Lidge been more alert against Zoilo Almonte, he would not have needed to face Pirela at all. Almonte pulled a fastball toward first baseman Matt Rizzotti, who coolly glided to his right and snagged the hard shot. Unfortunately, Lidge was caught watching the play and failed to cover first base.
Asked about the misplay later, Lidge stammered a bit, then managed, sheepishly, "That's me not being out there for a while."