CLEARWATER, Fla. – Repair. Repair. Repeat. That's the Brad Lidge(notes) tried-and-true spring training plan. It resulted in something epic two years ago and this time around allows him to conveniently flush the memories of colossal failure.
Repair the damage to his right elbow. Surgery done in November.
Repair the damage to his right knee. Surgery done in January.
Repeat the routine he employed in the spring of 2008, when he recovered from similar knee surgery at an efficient pace and missed only the first few days of the regular season. Then, including the postseason, he saved 48 games without a slip-up, a major league record.
"We didn't rush it and I had the best season of my career," he said Wednesday at the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training facility.
The focus on his health deflects attention from the damage to his psyche caused by a major league-leading 11 blown saves last season, not including Game 4 of the World Series against the New York Yankees, when he gave up that slap single to Johnny Damon(notes), and a stolen base became two stolen bases, and then he hit Mark Teixeira(notes). Then he gave up that run-scoring double to Alex Rodriguez(notes) and finally a two-run single to Jorge Posada(notes).
Repair? Call it a total loss. But Lidge is a master at convincing himself everything is rosy. Problem is the same outlook that resulted in his 2008 invincibility thrust him headlong into harm's way a year later. Turns out, he said, he was never right last season because of the knee. He tweaked his mechanics. He tipped his pitches. He couldn't hold runners close.
"You try to convince yourself that you're not 100 percent but you're fine, [that] you'll be able to go out there and get results as normal," Lidge said. "It's not about trying to trick people as much as convincing yourself. If you can't sell it to yourself, there's no reason to go out there.
"I think the biggest thing is I was trying to convince myself I could get it done the same way and I felt I could do it, but I wasn't the same guy last year."
As understatements go, that's top quality. But Lidge is done dwelling on it. A closer must have the short-term memory of a cornerback. The cleanup of the knee and the elbow give Lidge something else to talk about.
"The good thing is my arm and knee both feel good, and it's my goal to catch up and be ready," Lidge said. "We can look at '08 as a model."
Lidge said he is two weeks behind his usual pace, but closers are notorious for not doing much in February and answering the bell on opening day. It's not as if he needs to build the stamina to throw 100 pitches.
The more pressing question for manager Charlie Manuel – by the way, a svelte Charlie Manuel, the big guy having dropped more than 50 pounds since October – is this: Can he count on Lidge to be his closer?
Set-up reliever Ryan Madson(notes) has the pitches but perhaps not the stomach for the job. Danys Baez(notes), signed to a two-year deal, was an effective closer … in 2005. It's Lidge's job: The 48 saves are too fresh in everyone's mind for Manuel to give up on him quite yet.
As for 2009, well, spring is for forgetting. And repair.
"I'm going to burn my '09 shirts and we'll get this over with and move forward," he said.
• From Orlando: The Atlanta Braves were one MRI result from slapping their collective foreheads and ruing the trade that sent starter Javier Vazquez(notes) to the New York Yankees. Actually, they may yet rue that deal since they didn't get enough in return, but the MRI on starter Jair Jurrjens'(notes) shoulder found no structural damage, just anterior shoulder inflammation.
Jurrjens, who complained of soreness after pitching an exhibition in his native Curacao, will rest a week then begin a throwing program. A healthy Jurrjens is crucial to the Braves, who might have the best rotation in the National League. He was 14-10 with a 2.60 ERA last season.
• From Ft. Myers: This is so much more preferable. Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) has a mild back strain and isn't going to throw for a few days. Not because he is out of shape and concealed an injury suffered from pitching in the World Baseball Classic. No, that was last year. This time the Japanese right-hander hurt himself during a rigorous offseason workout at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Arizona.
"I know he's worked really hard this winter to make up for last year and come out and have a big season," GM Theo Epstein said. "That's what we're all hoping for him. We want to slow this thing down so we don't turn something small into something big. Last year, he never really was able to get into condition to pitch in part because of the way things went early in spring. We want to make sure we avoid a repeat of that."