New closer eager to get to camp

New closer eager to get to spring camp

WYOMISSING, Pa. -- In a remote stop a few miles from Reading, Pa., on one of the winter's more frozen nights, Brad Lidge made his first Pennsylvania appearance without crutches.

The last time the Phillies' closer was seen -- at his introductory press conference -- he needed support as he tried on his new No. 54 jersey. The right-hander said Thursday his surgically repaired right knee feels fine, and he's not concerned about his readiness for Spring Training.

In fact, he figures the knee might be a blessing in disguise.

"I won't be doing any long marathons when I first get down there, and less running in general," Lidge said with a smile. "The knee feels really good right now. I'm a little further along than I thought. I don't feel I've rushed it, at this point. It's come along real strong."

Lidge appeared at the Sheraton Reading Hotel with Shane Victorino and J.C. Romero, as the Phillies continued their annual Winter Tour. The team followed Wednesday's appearance in Lehigh County with an outing near the home of their longtime Double-A affiliate.

In a few weeks, Lidge will join his new teammates at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater, Fla. He said he's thrown off a mound twice and felt fine, and he believes he'll be ready for the team's first Spring Training game, on Feb. 26 against Florida State University.

Lidge is being counted on to anchor a bullpen that was ridden heavily in September 2007. Those relied on the most during last season's final month were Romero, Tom Gordon and Brett Myers, who has returned to the starting rotation with Lidge's arrival. Ryan Madson returns after a right shoulder injury, and Chad Durbin is the swing man. Clay Condrey, J.D. Durbin, Travis Blackley, Francisco Rosario, Michael Zagurski and Fabio Castro likely will battle for the final two available spots.

Lidge made a career-low 66 appearances last season, and he likely will see a spike in 2008.

"That's fine," he said. "It's a very fortunate situation for me to have been traded here. I feel lucky that the team I was traded to was on the upswing, a team that not can get to a World Series, but win a World Series."

Understandably, Lidge is weary of hearing about the high-profile home run he surrendered to Albert Pujols in the 2005 National League Championship Series, and how it affected his next season, during which he compiled a 5.28 ERA, by far the highest of his career.

He called those 2006 struggles a "mechanical issue," though he admits he developed a cut fastball for 2007 because he lost confidence in his devastating fastball and hard-biting slider.

By April of last season, Lidge had lost his closer job. During an April game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, he had runners on second and third with no outs. Houston catcher Brad Ausmus implored him to use his fastball and slider, and "see what happens," according to Lidge.

He struck out the next three hitters.

"I felt as good as ever after that and went through the best stretch of my career after that," Lidge said. "Earning my job back felt better than if it was handed to me when I wasn't throwing well. I needed to earn it back."

Sensing a trade was imminent, Lidge said he comes to Philadelphia in a good state of mind.

"I believe that sometimes too much is made of [a change of scenery], but I also believe that sometimes it's a great thing," he said. "I just know that I'm more excited to go to Spring Training now than I have been in a long time, so I think it's going to be a great thing."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.