Brad Lidge adds wisdom, experience to Nationals’ bullpen

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Brad Lidge has been to the top of the mountain — and on the bottom of the pile. He’s been the man on the mound when the World Series championship is decided, the one spreading his arms, ready to receive a jubilant catcher after reaching the sport’s pinnacle.

And he’s been to the depths of his profession. In a career that’s spanned 10 major league seasons with the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, Lidge is a pitcher who’s struggled through injury, inconsistency and with overcoming one devastating home run swing.

Now, he’s going to be something else: the sage at the end of a bullpen filled with pitchers at least seven years his junior. Agreeing to a one-year, $1 million deal plus incentives with the Washington Nationals on Thursday, Lidge, 35, joined a bullpen overflowing with talent but short on experience. No longer the closer, that role taken by 24-year-old Drew Storen, the wisdom of his experience — and a nasty slider — is what he’ll provide as one of the team’s set-up men.

“You add a presence like him, and it really can’t be matched,” Storen said. “He’s thrown the last pitch of a World Series, and I think that pretty much says all you need to know. He’s pitched in as high a pressure situation as there is. It’ll be great to pick his brain a lot. I’m really looking forward to it.”

As the Nationals continue to round out their roster, they certainly had enough candidates to fill out the spot in their bullpen with Storen joined by All-Star Tyler Clippard, Henry Rodriguez, Sean Burnett, Ryan Mattheus and Tom Gorzelanny.

But general manager Mike Rizzo made no secret that the team still was in the market for a veteran arm, and he got that in Lidge, who also is close friends with right fielder Jayson Werth and has one of the best clubhouse reputations in the game.

“This is a guy that brings us a vast amount of knowledge about how to pitch back-ends of the game,” Rizzo said on ESPN980. “He’ll be a wealth of information for those guys, and he still has swing-and-miss stuff.”

The Nationals weren’t in on Lidge early in the offseason, his agent, Rex Gary, said, instead entering the conversation for the right-hander late but aggressively.

“The issues for Brad were: He wanted to go to a place where he’s going to have fun, there’s going to be a good chance to win, it’s going to be a good place for his family, and he’s going to pitch important innings and important games,” Gary said. “When Washington came into play and Mike Rizzo made his pitch, Brad was sold.”

Lidge’s contract contains performance incentives for games played and games finished, but his addition is as much about his clubhouse presence and experience.

“He’s done it all,” Storen said. “I think that’s what impressed me the most about him. I always heard what a stand-up guy he was even with the little things — how he deals with the media even if he had a bad game. He was just a guy who was easy to respect and I definitely did, especially once I started closing in college. … It’ll be great having him on the team.”

Storen, who met Lidge for the first time in the outfield before a game during his rookie season, always admired the way Lidge carried himself and persevered through a career that has seen several ups and downs. Storen’s father, Mark Patrick, a sports broadcaster, used to point out Lidge’s demeanor, win or lose, to his son. Now Lidge will help get the ball to the Nationals’ closer.

Gary said Lidge “embraces” the set-up and mentor roles he’ll play with the Nationals: “He knows Washington has a really good young closer in Storen, and he’s there to help.”

Lidge has 223 career saves but has had trouble achieving consistency from year to year during a major league career that began in 2002 with Houston. He’s opened the season on the disabled list three of the past four years, and a shoulder injury delayed the start of his 2011 campaign until late July. By then, Ryan Madson had supplanted him as the closer for the National League East champions. He pitched only 19 1/3 innings for the Phillies last season but allowed just three runs for a 1.40 ERA. His health is not expected to be an issue this season.

The right-hander has a 3.44 ERA in 592 major league appearances and long has been known as a strikeout artist. His 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings is the highest all-time for pitchers with at least 500 innings.

His best season came in 2008 when he compiled a 1.95 ERA and 41 regular-season saves and did not blow a save opportunity all year as the Phillies won the World Series. A year later, he went 0-8 and his ERA ballooned to 7.21 in 67 appearances.

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