The Washington Times - March 27, 2012, 06:12PM

JUPITER, Fla. — Brad Lidge needed nine pitches to retire the Miami Marlins in bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday afternoon. If the stadium radar gun is to be believed, he was throwing fastballs in the 91-92 mph range and mixed in a few sliders.

A younger Lidge may have been disappointed by those numbers, used to seeing his fastball average 94-95 mph in 2007 and 2008. But this Lidge, the one who is mostly just happy to be coming through spring training healthy, is thrilled by them. His goal was to reach the 90-92 mph range by the time the season starts. He’s ahead of schedule.

SEE RELATED:


“It’s come a little quicker than I thought,” Lidge said. “Hopefully there’s a chance I can still go up a bit, I don’t know. But I can tell you that I feel really good… It’s not just the velocity, but to be able to throw the ball wherever I want consistently right now.”

For the Nationals, Lidge feeling the way he does is exactly what they were hoping for when they added him to the back-end of their bullpen. What they weren’t expecting, at least not immediately, was that Lidge would be thrust into a share of the closer role.

Nationals closer Drew Storen began a throwing program Tuesday, the start of a building process for him to get back to where he was before elbow joint inflammation and strep throat stole the better part of three weeks from him. It’s not out of the question that Storen starts the season on the active roster but in the likely event that he needs a disabled list stint at the start of the year, Lidge and Henry Rodriguez would share the closer role.

When Lidge signed with the Nationals, he talked about how excited he was to be used in different roles. For so long he’d been a closer and since the Nationals didn’t need one of those he was looking forward to different challenges. But being a closer isn’t something that just goes away, so Lidge has welcomed the opportunity.

“First and foremost, we all want Drew to get back as fast as possible,” Lidge 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… With the experience I’ve had, whatever (manager Davey Johnson) wants to do with me is great. To be able to get in there and close some games out, and to do whatever needs to be done before Drew gets back.”

– Nationals outfielder Rick Ankiel left Tuesday game after the 3 1/2 innings, walking with a team trainer to the visiting clubhouse. Ankiel has been dealing with a left quad issue for much of the spring and he’s been undergoing extensive massage treatments on the area. Johnson said Ankiel was unsure if the quad was just sore from all the treatment or getting a little tight but “he wasn’t really concerned about it.”

“As a precaution I took him out,” Johnson said. “He’s just been having a ton of treatment. They go in there and dig and dig… But before they started, it was just really rock-hard. Tight. Now he’s feeling good.”

Ankiel told Johnson he’d be fine to play in the team’s game on Wednesday in Port St. Lucie but Johnson said the center fielder will have the day off in light of the soreness as well as the fact that the Mets are throwing a left-handed starter.  

– Outfielder Roger Bernadina was 2-for-4 on Tuesday, continuing the hot streak he’s had at the plate lately. Bernadina is now 7-for-10 in his last three games, including two home runs and seven of his eight RBI this spring. Bernadina has shown this type of talent in the past but he’s also maddeningly inconsistent. If he can continue the way he’s been going now, he’d play his way into an awful lot of Nationals games early this season.

– The Nationals will head to Port St. Lucie on Wednesday before they kick off the final week of spring training with three straight home games. They’ll finish the spring with a game in Jupiter on Sunday and their final game in Fort Myers on Monday. They’ll head north Monday night and play the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday at Nationals Park.