Associated Press photo
Brad Lidge impressed again today against the Marlins.
Lidge, owner of 223 career big-league saves with the Astros and Phillies, insists he's ready for the challenge.
"First and foremost, we all want Drew to get back as fast as possible," he said. "We all know he's the closer. ... Obviously I'd be happy to have that role. I still feel in my mind when I'm healthy that's something I love to do, and I'm very happy to do it. I definitely would love to have an opportunity to do that."
Manager Davey Johnson has said he'll use either Lidge or Henry Rodriguez in the ninth inning until Storen returns. (He was scheduled to resume a throwing program today and believes he won't need much time to get himself game-ready, but he'll probably need to miss at least the season's first week.)
Both Lidge (1.29 ERA, nine strikeouts, zero walks) and Rodriguez (0.00 ERA, seven strikeouts, two walks) have excelled this spring, and Lidge was back at it today against the Marlins, retiring the side in the bottom of the eighth inning with a strikeout and two flyballs.
Perhaps most important, the 35-year-old's fastball velocity was consistently in the 91-92 mph range according to the stadium radar gun. That's up from where it was earlier this spring and is where Lidge has hoped it would settle all along.
"I would've told you probably when the season started if I was going to be 90-91, maybe 92, that I'd be where I wanted," he said. "Fortunately it's kind of come a little quicker than I thought. Hopefully there's a chance it can still go up a bit [more]."
Lidge's velocity won't reach its peak level from 2007, when his fastball averaged 95.8 mph, but he's not that same kind of pitcher anymore following shoulder surgery.
These days, the right-hander relies much more on his slider. Last year, he threw that pitch an astounding 70.7 percent of the time, up from 45.4 percent in 2007.
Lidge did go to his fastball more regularly during today's outing, and he did the same in a recent game at minor-league camp. Club officials came away encouraged by his ability to record outs with that pitch, perhaps decreasing his need to throw so many sliders (which are tougher on the arm).
"He's got nice zip on it," Johnson said. "He's pitching. I like what I'm seeing there."
There's still a long way to go, and there's no assurances Lidge's arm will hold up over the long haul after he was forced to miss time in each of the last two seasons.
But for now, the veteran reliever looks as healthy -- and effective -- as ever.
"I'm not fighting anything," he said. "My arm feels good. My body feels good. So I can just go out there and throw. Normally -- knock on wood -- it'll be good results if I don't have to worry about anything bothering me."