tampabay.com

Falloff continues for Astros' Lidge

Pitcher Brad Lidge no longer one of the most dominant closers in the game.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published April 15, 2007


Two years ago, pitcher Brad Lidge was one of the most dominant closers in the game. Less than two weeks into the season, Houston has relieved him of that task.

Lidge, 30, hasn't been the same since he gave up a game-winning three-run homer to the Cardinals' Albert Pujols with two outs in the ninth in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series.

He was 1-5 with a 5.28 ERA last season with six blown saves. He gave up 11 earned runs this spring and had an 11.00 ERA.

He blew a save on opening day, then allowed five runs - three earned - over two-thirds of an inning.

Manager Phil Garner removed the right-hander from the closer role for the first time since July. He will try Lidge in long relief, hoping more innings and less pressure can settle the former All-Star's psyche.

"I'm definitely upset about losing my role after throwing in two games, after throwing in one save situation," Lidge said. "Garner made the decision and I will of course stand by it. He's my manager and I'll do whatever he wants me to do. But that being said, I'm pretty ticked off about it ... so hopefully this will be something that motivates me and I can use it to my advantage."

General managers are contacting Astros GM Tim Purpura, who spent the spring standing by the closer, saying he wouldn't be traded. But pitching is always at a premium, and despite his struggles, Lidge has a track record of success, so other teams might be willing to take a risk - especially while his stock is low.

"I don't have that thought at all," Purpura said of a change of scenery for Lidge. "Our focus is on getting him back to what he can be and what he has been. The physical tools are there for him to be as successful as he ever was. There's no doubt about it."

SPARE BEDS? Would the people of the Tampa Bay area open their spare bedrooms to the likes of Travis Hafner or C.C. Sabathia?

Because of snow in Cleveland, the Indians moved their three-game series against the Angels to Milwaukee's Miller Park last week, but other considerations were Tropicana Field, Minute Maid Park in Houston and the Ballpark at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

It made for a tough week for Indians travel director Mike Seghi.

"The hardest part for me was trying to find enough hotel rooms in all the different cities, and seeing if we could get planes chartered," Seghi said. "We were all set with rooms in Milwaukee and Houston, but there weren't enough rooms at Disney or in St. Pete."

MINUS HUMAN ERROR: Marlins rookie reliever Henry Owens asked that the Dolphin Stadium PA system crew play Metallica's -Human (pronounced Minus Human) for his entrance song. But when he was warming up for his first major-league save Monday, it mistakenly played Enter Sandman, the warmup song for the Yankees' Mariano Rivera and the Mets' Billy Wagner, two of the game's elite closers who have combined for 740 saves.

"Who knows how long it will be before I can come out to a song like that," Owens said. "I was out there throwing and I was like, 'Is this Enter Sandman they're playing here? I'm going to have a lot to live up to. I better have a good inning.' Everybody on their team was probably like, 'What the hell is this guy doing?' "

COLD ALBERT: Going into Saturday, Pujols was 0-for-10 against left-handers and 0-for-8 with men in scoring position. Hitting .176 overall this season, the Cardinals first baseman hit .397 with men in scoring position last year and .336 against left-handers.

COLD ALEX: Royals third baseman Alex Gordon has looked like a rookie for most of his short time in the big leagues. He hit his first home run Tuesday and is showing signs of improvement, but after nine games was hitting .091 with 13 strikeouts in 33 at-bats. He has two errors, but could have been charged with at least two more.

AROUND THE HORN: The Tigers' Gary Sheffield was hitting .103 through eight games as the exclusive DH, so manager Jim Leyland moved him into the field to make him "more active." ... Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett won back-to-back starts (Sunday-Monday) for the first time since Burnett arrived in 2006. ... The Braves' 7-1 start matches their best since 1995, when they won the World Series. ... This season, the Brewers will have 17 different bobblehead giveaways, including past and present players and even one of Chorizo, the racing sausage. ... In an ESPN season simulation of the MLB 2K7 video game, the Phillies beat the Red Sox to win the World Series four games to three.

Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com.

The quoteboard

"A few times I just took my hat off and looked around, taking it all in, hearing fans screaming at me. They yelled, 'You s---,' and I laughed because I thought, 'Oh, man, you have no idea where I've been and where I've come from. You can say anything you want.' "

Reds OF (and former Ray) Josh Hamilton on making his first big-league start, Tuesday at Arizona. He also had his first hit - a home run

"I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger."

Mariners CF Ichiro Suzuki on facing Boston RHP and fellow Japanese countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka for the first time, through an interpreter

"I've got something for him next time. I'm going to call my mom in Venezuela to come here and cook for him. It will poison him. If Santana ate my mom's cooking, he will be in trouble pitching the next day."

Manager Ozzie Guillen, plotting against fellow Venezuelan/Twins pitcher Johan Santana, who beat the White Sox 3-0 Sunday