Lidge: One bad outing or a red flag?

Brad Lidge struggled in Wednesday's outing against the Marlins. The Phillies won the game, 10-5. (AP Photo / Matt Slocum)

More than once while in Florida, various Phillies personnel joked before games by asking me what I was writing. "Boring these days, huh?" one said.

For the Phillies, that means full steam ahead. Consistent winning without issues or controversy. Few times this season have we been able to say that.

So it is with that where I begin to try to find something for people to concern themselves with. (That's my duty, right?) We'll start here: Brad Lidge. It was but one outing Wednesday -- 23 pitches in a complicated season for the Phillies' closer.

But it was such a terrible performance that it begs a closer look.

"He didn't have very much," Charlie Manuel said following Wednesday's 10-5 win. "He'd probably be the first one to tell you that."

Another caveat: I was never able to speak to Lidge after Tuesday or Wednesday's games. Tight deadlines for the dead tree edition of The Inquirer prohibited me from spending a great deal of time in the clubhouse.

On Tuesday, Lidge was sharp despite not having appeared in a game for eight days. Originally, soreness in his right elbow stopped Lidge from pitching in two games, but he proclaimed himself ready Sept. 10. But the Phillies didn't need him until the 14th.

His slider was sharp. He threw it nine times and it was a strike six of them. He threw his fastball for strikes, too, and closed out a one-run game with a 16-pitch ninth inning.

Then came Wednesday. The Phillies had a big lead, but Manuel wanted to use his closer on back-to-back days.

"When we got there, I wanted to use him," Manuel said. "He had pitched the night before and we have an off day tomorrow. We wanted him to throw some. We wanted to try and keep him sharp."

Manuel won't say it, but his motivations could have gone beyond keeping Lidge sharp. The manager probably wanted to see what Lidge can actually give his team right now.

There are differences in being healthy. A pitcher can be healthy enough to throw a ball. And a pitcher can be healthy enough to actually pitch.

In the last week, Lidge has steadfastly maintained he is healthy. No problems. The soreness is gone and so long as he doesn't try to overthrow another pitch, it shouldn't return.

And by no means am I saying Lidge is lying. Again, we're talking about one bad outing here.

But there were quite a few red flags. Lidge couldn't throw strikes. There were a few close calls, as Manuel duly noted, but there were a lot that weren't close. Lidge threw 11 fastballs on Wednesday and just two of them were strikes.

From Aug. 1 to Sept. 6, Lidge was at his best (a 0.55 ERA) because he was throwing strikes. In 16 1/3 innings, he had walked just three (against 18 strikeouts). He walked three Wednesday night while facing just five batters.

This season, Lidge's stuff isn't as good as it used to be. We've known this. His margin for error is tighter and limiting his walks is paramount to the closer's success right now.

And not only was he not throwing strikes, but his velocity was way down -- even from Tuesday. Compare:

FASTBALL (Season AVG: 91.8 mph)
AVG: 91.07; MAX: 92.5
AVG: 90.28; MAX: 91.3

SLIDER (Season AVG: 83.7 mph)
AVG: 82.04; MAX: 83
AVG: 81.15; MAX: 82

Yes, Lidge's velocity is down as a whole this season and on both days he underperformed the season averages. But Wednesday's numbers were even worse.

Again, it was one outing. But this is no doubt a situation that bears a close eye.

After issuing his third walk of the inning Wednesday -- this time allowing a run to score -- Manuel decided not to let Lidge finish the inning even with a five-run lead.

"I figured he had thrown enough," Manuel said. "He'll be all right."