- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2012

Brad Lidge is the newest member of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen.

The former Philadelphia Phillies and Houston Astros closer agreed to terms Thursday morning on a one-year, $1 million deal that will bolster the Nationals bullpen with a great deal of leadership and experience to a group that was already exceedingly talented — but youthful. Lidge is expected to join Tyler Clippard in setting up for closer Drew Storen, a role his agent, Rex Gary, said Lidge “embraces.”

Brad wanted to go to place where he’s going to have fun, there’s going to be a good chance to win, it’s 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 (Nationals general manager) Mike Rizzo made his pitch, Brad was sold. He knows Washington has a really good young closer in Storen and he’s there to help.”

Lidge’s contract contains performance incentives for games played and games finished but his addition is as much about his tremendous clubhouse presence and experience as it is his abilities on the mound.

“We have good leadership in the bullpen and a good mix of veterans and young guys but you add a presence like him and it really can’t be matched,” Storen said in a phone interview. “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.”

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 the 35-year-old Lidge will help get the ball to the Nationals’ 24-year-old closer.

“He’s done it all,” he said. “I think that’s what impressed me the most about it. I always heard what a stand-up guy he was even with the little things — how he dealt 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.”

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 last 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 19⅓ innings for the Phillies last season but allowed just three runs for a 1.40 ERA. Health is not expected to be an issue for Lidge this season.

The right-hander has a 3.44 ERA in 592 major league appearances and has long 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 championship. A year later, though, he went 0-8 and his ERA ballooned to 7.21 in 67 appearances.

For the Nationals, though, there is no expectation that he will be the reliever he once was. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has said frequently in the past few weeks that the team was in the market for a veteran bullpen arm. On Wednesday, Rizzo reiterated that point.

“We feel good about where we’re at,” Rizzo said. “Never satisfied. Need more arms. Improve the bullpen, improve the bench, all those factors… We can never rest on our laurels because when we rest, the Phillies and the Marlins and the Braves and the Mets aren’t resting. We’ve got to give (Nationals manager Davey Johnson) the best pieces to manage and try and win with.”

To that end, Johnson has said repeatedly that he feels in order to be a pennant-winning team, the bullpen must contain not just a solid set-up man and closer combination but a back-up closer as well. That philosophy, combined with Lidge’s experience in big situations and big games makes him an ideal fit. He’ll join Henry Rodriguez, Sean Burnett and possibly Ryan Mattheus in the mid-to-late-inning role this season.

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