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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Time to Turn Out the Lights on Lidge

I tried for months to ignore Brad Lidge's troubles, wishing that he would somehow just right the ship and return to his dominant old self, mostly because I am biased. I really like the guy. He is humble, intelligent, entertaining and accountable for his own actions, all of which are rare qualities among modern athletes. But now even I will admit that it is time to call a spade a spade. Brad Lidge is bad, and he is not getting any better.
No longer is it a question of whether or not Lidge should be the Astros' closer. Even ever-loyal Scrap Iron was finally forced to publicly admit that Lidge had lost his closer job. However, that move alone is not enough of a demotion. Lidge has been scored upon in 14 of his 31 appearances since June 1. Control is an issue, but not walks (10 BB, 44 K in that same timeframe). He is simply getting hit - hard. Lidge has allowed 30 hits in 29 1/3 IP, including five home runs. Since blowing a save against the Dodgers on April 24, Lidge's ERA has never been below 4.67 (currently 5.56). His WHIP is 1.49 for the season. Opponents are batting .254 against him (up from .223 in 2005 and .174 in 2004, and they are slugging a quite astonishing .431 (up from .323 in 2005 and .254 in 2004).

Brad Lidge is not just not "Lights Out" anymore; he's a bad pitcher, and he has been virtually the entire season. Maybe he'll figure it out in the offseason or in spring training next year. Maybe the Astros will feel forced to deal him during the winter. Maybe Jim Hickey will earn a paycheck for the first time in his career and help Lidge correct his painful flaws. Until then, however, Phil Garner must learn that Lidge simply cannot be used in close games. Period. Tie games, leading or trailing by a run or two - these games are not save situations, necessarily, but they are important situations with a very low margin for error. Fake an injury and put him on the DL. Give him some time sort things out, but forget staring at the name on the back of his jersey and listening to his theme music blast from the loudspeakers and assuming that he deserves a back-of-the-bullpen slot by default is not just stubborn; it's stupid. Unless the Astros are ahead by five or more runs or behind by five or more runs, Brad Lidge should gather dust in the bullpen. It is sad, but it is true. The Astros' playoff hopes are dire enough. Each time Lidge is run out in a close game, that faint flame begins to fade a little bit more.


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