Just weeks ago, they were admirable oddities, oldsters bedeviled by injuries that might signal The End who’d be potential mentors for the Nats’ kids. DeRosa has a business degree from the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Lidge, a Notre Dame man, settled a Nats clubhouse argument by casually naming all 44 U.S. presidents in order.
General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Davey Johnson believe in IQ, especially in men who’ve played in 21 postseason series. But, much as they respect these vets, they never thought they’d be key cogs on opening day. Yikes.
“Looks like we might get a little more action,” said a smiling Lidge, who’ll split the closer role with Henry Rodriguez until Storen’s back.
If Lidge, healthy for the first spring in years, and his revitalized fastball stay as crisp as they’ve been in Florida, his ability to fill any late-inning role may give the Nats one of the deepest, most flexible bullpens in recent years.
DeRosa, his career almost dead last summer, now figures to play almost every day, in left field or at first base, until Morse returns. After that he’ll be platooned, at least temporarily, with Adam LaRoche at first base.
However, DeRosa’s potential — to produce a great deal or nothing at all, depending on his twice-repaired left wrist — opens wide possibilities. He can play five positions. He’s been red-hot, reaching base in 20 of 36 plate appearances in Florida with a 10-to-1 walk-strikeout ratio that exemplifies the kind of “tough out” that the high-strikeout Nats utterly lacked last year.
“I called Mark three or four times over the winter: ‘I’ll take you any way I can get you — 50 percent [healthy], 80 percent. We’ll work through it. I just want you,” Johnson said.
When DeRosa, who hit 44 homers in ’08-’09 as a super utility man, laced a through-the-wind homer off lethal lefty Jonny Venters this month, it sent a jolt through the Nats. DeRosa’s power was supposed to be extinct. Hadn’t he become a slap hitter? “I could hardly believe it,” DeRosa said.
It’s unrealistic to expect the one-man-bench DeRosa of ’02-’09 to return, much less the Lidge who had the perfect season for the ’08 Phillies — 48 for 48 in saves, including the World Series clincher — or even the Lidge of ’10 who saved 27 games with a 2.96 ERA. But, suddenly, both have a chance to show everything they’ve got left. Or not. That’s a corny plot — right out of 1930s baseball fiction for kids — that neither expected.
Both were signed as break-if-you-breathe-on-them discount items. What Rizzo and Johnson saw was resilience and baseball knowledge, plus the off chance one of ’em might get healthy one last time. What’s to lose?