(Jonathan Daniel/GETTY IMAGES)

And then something unexpected happened: The Nationals activated Lidge off the disabled list, and he spent Thursday afternoon in their bullpen. Rather than throwing a final tune-up tonight in Potomac, Lidge will be in uniform and available to pitch in the late innings, if necessary.

“It’s definitely a little surprising, yeah,” Lidge said. “I got to the field and didn’t know I’d be activated. I had a good outing on Wednesday. Probably the thinking there is like, Monday wasn’t great, but I felt healthy. Wednesday was better. So probably Friday would have been all the way better, but why waste that one in the minor leagues? As long as I keep progressing, my next outing should be right where I need to be.”

As Lidge finished the thought, he smiled and crossed his fingers. He had expected to come back either Sunday in Boston or join the Nationals in Toronto, but the Nationals were forced to activate him when they placed Henry Rodriguez on the disabled list. “Hopefully, the next time I get out there it will keep going the right direction,” Lidge said.

Manager Davey Johnson plans to use Lidge in a set-up role alongside Sean Burnett. Johnson referred to Tyler Clippard as “my closer” for the first time, a title he had already applied with his actions – Clippard has gone six for six in save chances and handled every opportunity that has arisen since Henry Rodriguez was demoted.

“I know Bradley can close ballgames,” Johnson said. “I’ll probably keep him in that group with Burnett and my closer, Clippard. Keep him in that threesome there. Hopefully I’ll get a lot of work for Clippard, and he’ll need some relief.”

Clippard has been excellent since taking over the closing role. In 5 2/3 innings, Clippard has not allowed a hit or a run, striking out six while walking two.

The bullpen could receive another reinforcement soon. Ryan Mattheus pitched in a simulated game today that went “very well,” Johnson said. In his recovery from plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Mattheus is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Sunday at Class A Potomac. When Mattheus returns, the Nationals will likely employ an eight-man bullpen.

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