Notes: Lidge's mile-high work pays off

Notes: Lidge's mile-high work pays

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Having worked out extensively in his hometown of Englewood, Colo., a Denver suburb, Brad Lidge felt somewhat like a marathon runner after doing some sprints with fellow pitchers Chad Qualls and Dave Borkowski on Thursday.

Getting in shape in a higher altitude can work in an athlete's favor when it's time to come back down to sea level.

"When I get home, I get out of breath for a while," Lidge said. "But then your lungs get used to it. Then you come down here, and I feel like I can run for days. It's a good thing."

Lidge realizes that feeling in tip-top shape at this point in the year doesn't mean much, but he is encouraged by how his arm feels, mechanically and physically.

"This is as good as I've felt in a long time, at this point," said Lidge, who put in a lot of work at the Nolan Ryan Elite Camp a couple of weeks ago. "We've got a long six weeks ahead, but I couldn't feel any better than I do right now, for this time of year."

Slow progress: Although he won't be available for much, if any of this year, Brandon Backe will be a willing participant at all Spring Training functions as he works his way back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

Backe has been throwing at a 90-foot distance for a couple of weeks and expects to start throwing off a mound at some point during the spring season, perhaps in two or three weeks.

"I've been throwing for a month and a half now, progressively getting farther and stronger," Backe said. "The timeline of me being on the mound is going to be somewhere around the third week of Spring Training. I haven't had any side tracks, I've pretty much stayed on the path of recovery. Everybody who's seen me throw so far has been impressed with how well the ball's coming out of my hand."

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Too long? Any big-league veteran will admit that while Spring Training is fun for the first few days, the novelty wears off pretty quickly.

The first couple of days are sort of like the first day of school -- you're happy to see each other after a few months apart, but once you get settled into a routine, you're looking for your next vacation.

The Astros are in Kissimmee for more than a month -- seven weeks for the front office, and six for the players. Far from the comforts of home and gearing up for more than 30 games that mean nothing in the standings, it is understandable why some think Spring Training is just too long.

In the old days, Spring Training was a necessity, because no one worked out in the winter. But nowadays, players show up to camp in the best shape of the year after spending most of the offseason training.

One of manager Phil Garner's major tasks every year is to make sure his players don't burn themselves out during the Grapefruit League season.

"For position players, Spring Training can become boring," Garner said. "The biggest issue we have is to try to keep guys from getting bored. That's why we try to give guys an off-day, particularly the veteran players."

Every spring, Garner usually gives his star players at least one day where they don't have to come to the ballpark at all. Garner is also known for not sending his veteran players on the longer road trips, a habit he's likely to continue this year.

The key is to make sure everyone paces himself.

"It's not wise to start the season out of shape, nor is it wise to start the season if you've peaked with 10 days to go," Garner said. "The trick is to try to get guys all peaking that last week."

Unpacking: It's no easy task unloading a 53-foot 18-wheeler, but that's the undertaking equipment manager Dennis Liborio and his staff had waiting for them when they arrived in Kissimmee earlier this week.

The truck, containing everything players, managers and support staffers need during a six-week stay away from their home headquarters, was loaded on the truck last Friday and now, it's time to move into Osceola County Stadium.

The list of items includes hats, T-shirts, jerseys, pants, socks, running shoes, spikes, turf shoes, lightweight jackets, heavy jackets, helmets, belts, long johns, 10,000 pieces of gum and 36 boxes of sunflower seeds.

The athletic trainers have their inventory, too -- whirlpools, medical supplies, medical machines and weight equipment.

No wonder Liborio arrives to the clubhouse at 5:30 a.m. and doesn't leave until after dark.

"We've been unpacking stuff for the last two days," assistant equipment manager Carl Schneider said. "Fortunately we really haven't had any [players] here until today."

Odds and ends: Former manager Hal Lanier, skipper of the 1986 National League West championship team, stopped by the Astros clubhouse on Thursday to say hello to old friends. Lanier, who managed the Astros from 1986-88, lives in nearby St. Cloud, Fla. ... Astros pitchers and catchers will work out together for the first time this spring on Friday morning. It's going to be a chilly day, with highs reaching only 58 degrees, while the temps will drop that night to 33.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.