In the likely event Drew Storen begins the season on the disabled list, the Nationals’ ninth innings appear to be in very capable hands. With a lead in the final inning, Davey Johnson could hand the ball to Henry Rodriguez, owner of the hardest fastball in the majors. Or he could hand it to Brad Lidge, owner of 223 saves and starting the season healthier than he’s been in years.
Both relievers have engendered more confidence with each spring appearance, combining to allow one run in 15 innings while striking out 16 and issuing two walks. Lidge took his latest turn today, throwing a 1-2-3 ninth inning with a strikeout. He has relished the entire spring and just because of his glimmering results – seven innings, no walks, one run, nine strikeouts. For the first time in four years, he is full healthy in the spring.
“There’s nothing prohibiting me from throwing inside or outside, throwing sliders wherever,” Lidge said earlier this spring. “I was a little tentative when I came back last year. The way I finished off the year last year, command-wise, I feel like I’m there right now. … If I’m throwing 90 with command of my slider, that’s good. Anything above that is gravy.
“I’m feeling real good right now. To be honest, it’s kind of come around a little bit quicker than I thought it would, which is obviously great. My arm strength is kind of going the right way.”
Last year, Lidge tore his rotator cuff in the spring and did not return until late July.
After returning, he threw his slider more than 70 percent of the time as his fastball velocity dropped to 89.3 miles per hour on average, down from 93.6 in 2009. In his initial outings back, Lidge threw his fastball around 87 and 88 miles per hour. By the time the season ended, he had upped his velocity to 91 and 92.
Lidge did not expect to match that during the spring, but figured he would during the regular season, when his adrenaline flowed. The stadium radar gun may have been a tick high, but his fastball today zipped at 91 and 92 miles per hour on the scoreboard. He thinks he can pitch how he wants to pitch with a 90-mph fastball, which should not be a problem.
The Nationals signed Lidge to a one-year, $1 million deal to help Henry Rodriguez and Tyler Clippard set-up. He has had trouble staying healthy, and he is 35-years-old. But if this spring is a preview of the season, and the Nationals need a closer for more than a handful of games, then they got themselves a bargain.
>>> Steve Lombardozzi made his first miscue in the outfield today, letting a Jose Reyes double down the line scoot past him and allowing Reyes to motor to third. The ball rolled along the wall, a tricky carom for a rookie infielder trying to learn left field. “He was a little aggressive,” Johnson said. “That’s just not being an outfielder.”