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Baseball
Albert Chen
May 29, 2006
Fighting Back
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May 29, 2006

Baseball

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A conversation over dinner at a San Francisco restaurant on May 7 may prove to be the turning point of Astros reliever Brad Lidge's season. He was dining with new teammate Joe McEwing, a utilityman who had been called up from Triple A Round Rock that morning. When talk turned to Lidge's astonishing struggles--the All-Star righthander had been rocked for 12 runs in 16 innings, was no longer fooling hitters with his best pitch (the slider) and had lost his closer's job--McEwing offered this insight: Lidge was tipping his pitches when he threw from the stretch.

McEwing said he first detected the flaw during a stint with the Mets; after scrutinizing video of himself the next day, Lidge saw what McEwing was talking about. He was positioning his hands at his chest before throwing a slider and at his belt before delivering a fastball. But because Lidge was so dominant, he'd rarely had to work from the stretch and was able to keep hitters off balance. Early this season, however, he had begun pitching exclusively from the stretch.

"I looked around the league and most relievers were doing that, so I thought it would be easier for me to do that," says Lidge, who saved 42 games last season. "[But pitching] out of the full windup is how I get my rhythm and how I stay aggressive. From going out of the stretch I also lost the ability to deceive hitters."

Lidge returned to the windup, and in his next four outings he allowed one base runner and no runs in a total of four innings; last Friday he was back slamming the door on an opponent in the ninth inning, using his filthy slider to set down the Rangers in order and earn his first save in two weeks. Says Lidge, "I've felt like my old self."

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