Looks like Lidge is back in peak form

VIERA, Fla. - Stan Kasten was once an NBA general manager. Now the former president of the Nationals is back in baseball, only with an NBA Hall of Famer by his side.

Kasten and Magic Johnson are part of a group which agreed to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion late last night.

The purchase will get Kasten back into the major leagues, although in some ways, Kasten never left, even after resigning as Nationals president after the 2010 season. He was still seen around the Nats' facilities from time to time and maintains a good relationship with general manager Mike Rizzo.

I'm sure the two executives will remain in touch; now they'll just have a couple thousand miles in between them.

Assuming Drew Storen needs to miss at least the early stages of the regular season as he recovers from elbow inflammation - and that is the assumption the Nationals are working under - Brad Lidge is willing to step in and fill the closer role.

And given the way Lidge has been throwing the ball during Grapefruit League games, the Nats should feel perfectly confident turning to the 35-year-old righty.

Lidge has been exceptional this spring, throwing seven innings, allowing just one earned run on four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts. If Lidge's confidence had ever wavered after having shoulder surgery last year, it's been restored with his strong spring, and has him believing he's in line for a big year, regardless of how he's used.

"First and foremost, we all want Drew to get back as fast as possible," Lidge said yesterday after his fifth straight scoreless inning. "We all know he's the closer. Hopefully it won't take him that long. (But) obviously I'd be happy to have that role. I still feel in my mind when I'm healthy that's something I love to do, and I'm very happy to do it. I definitely would love to have an opportunity to do that."

Manager Davey Johnson has said that Lidge and fellow right-hander Henry Rodriguez (0.00 ERA in eight spring innings) are his two options to close should Storen not be available, but given Lidge's experience finishing off games, he likely holds the upper hand.

Lidge has put up 223 career saves over his 10-year career, and his 41-save season in 2008 played a major role in the Phillies run to the World Series. His save numbers declined each year thereafter, however, and Lidge was limited to just 25 games last year after suffering a torn rotator cuff.

His injury and subsequent surgery took a bite out of his fastball velocity, and led him to lean much more heavily on his slider, which he threw on over 70 percent of his pitches in 2011. This spring, however, Lidge has been pleased with the radar readings on his fastball (the stadium gun yesterday had him at 91-92 mph) and feels confident he'll have even more juice on the pitch when the regular season comes around.

"I would've told you probably when the season started if I was going to be 90-91, maybe 92, that I'd be where I wanted when the season started," Lidge said. "Fortunately it's kind of come a little quicker than I thought. Hopefully there's a chance it can still go up a bit, I don't know. (But) I feel real good with how it's ramped up, for sure. And like I said, hopefully there's still a little more ramping to go."

Lidge has had problems with injuries in spring the last handful of years, missing three of the last four opening days because of various ailments. But after throwing a lot this winter and building up arm strength, he feels strong in Nats camp this spring, and hopes that his health will get him back to the form he showed a few years ago.

"The last couple years have been rough for me at spring training" Lidge said. "I haven't been able to stay healthy and obviously that's affected when I've been able to join the team in the season. (Now), I'm not fighting anything. My arm feels good. My body feels good. So I can just go out there and throw. Normally, knock on wood, it'll be good results if I don't have to worry about anything bothering me."

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