Brad Lidge delivers wisdom to Jeanmar Gomez, Phillies relievers

Brad Lidge delivers wisdom to Jeanmar Gomez, Phillies relievers

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A timeless baseball scene, the kind that has been going on for generations in this game, unfolded in the hallway outside the coaches’ locker room in Phillies camp early Thursday morning.

If you closed your eyes, it could have been Sandy Koufax talking to a young lefty back in Vero Beach ... or maybe Yaz giving tips to a hitter back in the day in Winter Haven … or even Eddie Mathews schooling a group of eager, young hopefuls in Pompano Beach.

It is that moment when the accomplished comes back to camp to impart wisdom on the aspiring.

So there they were, Jeanmar Gomez and Brad Lidge, deep in conversation before Thursday morning’s workout, one longtime closer, one relative newcomer to the role, two members of a unique baseball fraternity bonded by high-wire adrenaline, the sweet euphoria of success and the spleen-splitting agony of failure.

"It's really tough," Lidge said of the emotional toll that the role can take on a closer when he lets a lead slip away and his team loses a ballgame. "You never want to feel like you’re letting your team down. I think for me when I wasn’t throwing well or when I’d have a bad game it was like, 'Man, I let everybody else down.' "

Few know the elation that a closer can feel upon nailing down a tight game better than Lidge. He became a Phillies icon by going 48 for 48 in save chances then dropping to his knees and shouting, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series,” one magic October night back in 2008.

He also knows the horse kick in the gut that comes with stumbling in the role. There is no safety net for a closer. Failure is completely deflating. Lidge felt plenty of that in 2009 when he followed up his storybook season with 11 blown saves, the most in the majors that year.

So Lidge can completely sympathize with what Gomez went through as the Phillies' closer last year.

He knows the satisfaction that Gomez felt shaking hands with his teammates 37 times after saves.

He also knows the despair that Gomez felt when he pitched so poorly in September that manager Pete Mackanin had to remove him from the closer’s role.

Lidge, who retired after his right arm gave out in 2012, is in camp this week as a guest instructor, and if you think he’s here to sign a few autographs and spin yarns in the bullpen, think again.

As soon as he committed to his visit to Phillies camp, he knew there was one guy he wanted to speak with.

“I kind of wanted to talk to a lot of guys in the bullpen, but specifically Jeanmar, for sure,” Lidge said.

“He had a great season last year. Maybe it didn’t end quite the way he wanted. But for a guy in his first season of closing — he earned that role and he stepped on the accelerator for five months.”

Lidge is also seeking out Hector Neris in this camp. The hard-throwing Dominican with the nasty splitter has the makings of a future closer.

“I think my job here is to make the learning curve happen as fast as possible for these young guys because the arms are there for them to be great setup guys or closers,” Lidge said.

Lidge’s advice to Gomez centered on how to stay strong for a full season. He recalled getting similar lessons as a young reliever from Billy Wagner, then a teammate in Houston.

“That first full season of closing is physically and mentally taxing,” Lidge said. “We talked about ways to stay fresh and stay at a high level all year. He’s shown he can do it. This year it’s just going to be more about maintenance for a full year.”

Lidge spoke with Gomez about his daily, pregame, flat-ground throwing program, about knowing when to back off and save bullets.

“Maybe take a day off now and then so when you get near that finish line in September, you can accelerate up instead of feeling tired,” Lidge said.

Conserving strength for the long haul is one of the reasons Gomez, 29, has decided not to pitch for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic next month.

In 2008, Lidge struck out 11.9 batters per nine innings thanks in part to a devastating out pitch, his hard, downward-breaking slider. The Torpedo.

Gomez is not a typical closer. Over his career, he has struck out just 5.5 batters per nine innings. He relies on command of his sinker and his defense to get him through innings. The command and the movement on the sinker abandoned Gomez in September, causing him to struggle.

Lidge believes Gomez’s recipe can work if he’s called on to close again this season. Mackanin has anointed Gomez the closer — he’s sticking with him much like Charlie Manuel did with Lidge in 2009 — but roles can always change.

“I think you can have success [without a big out-pitch],” Lidge said. “It’s a little bit tougher. You have to be a little more precise [with your location], but you can do it.

“I really believe Jeanmar can have that type of season that he had for five months last year if he doesn’t get tired.

“He’s got everything he needs to close games. He’s got the stuff. He’s got the right mentality, too.”

He also has a year of experience on the high wire.

“With closing, I think it’s just a matter of going through it,” Lidge said. “Experience is the best teacher.”

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

Phillies prospect J.P. Crawford learning to fight through failure

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Plastered on a wall outside the press box in Coca-Cola Park is a sign — "Pigs to the Bigs" — surrounded by dozens of stars.

Each has upon it the name of a player who has made the leap from the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs to the parent Phillies since Lehigh Valley began operations in 2008 — everyone from outfielder Chris Snelling (April 30, 2008) to pitcher Nick Pivetta (April 29, 2017), the latter of whom has since returned to the IronPigs.

It is a study in the star-crossed, of guys who bounced up and down (Pete Orr, July 8, 2011), guys who flamed out (Domonic Brown, July 28, 2010), guys whose fate is yet to be determined (Maikel Franco, Sept. 3, 2014).

The point being that the path to major-league stardom seldom follows a straight line.

That has been demonstrated once again by the Phillies' top prospect, shortstop J.P. Crawford, who spent weeks in bounce-back mode earlier this season.

And now finds himself there again.

His 0-for-4 night in Thursday's 8-4 loss to Indianapolis left him hitless in his last 16 at-bats, his slash line for the season at .175/.291/.221.

Recall that Crawford, the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft, had exactly four hits in 48 at-bats over his first 14 games of the season, an average of .083.

Never before had the 22-year-old experienced anything like it, and he took a methodical approach to remedying the problem. He did some video work. He tinkered with his stance. He consulted with hitting coach Sal Rende and roving minor-league hitting instructor Andy Tracy. And slowly but surely, he began coming around.

The thinking at that point was that his slump might serve as a valuable lesson, a blessing in disguise.

As Crawford put it hours before Thursday's first pitch, "I'd rather struggle here than if I ever make it to the big leagues, God willing. I'd much rather have it [happen] down here than up there."

Though it will happen there, too. Baseball, everyone always says, is a game of failure. It's just a matter of how each player deals with it, works through it, minimizes it.

Lehigh Valley manager Dusty Wathan has said repeatedly that he was impressed by Crawford's approach to his scuffling start, that he thought the youngster treated it as "a growing opportunity" that can only help him down the line.

It was all Wathan could have hoped for, for Crawford or anybody else.

"I think it's a good thing to be able to have some experience to look back on, later on," he said. "Now, when they're going through it they probably don't think of it that way, but those of us who have been around baseball and been in situations like that personally, too, know that it's going to get better."

Wathan, seated at his office desk in a T-shirt and shorts before Thursday's game, has been around the block. He previously managed Crawford at Double A Reading, and believes those 14 games in April represent a blip.

"We know that J.P.'s a great player," Wathan said. "I think [such struggles] can actually end up being a good thing for these guys."

If Crawford, a native Californian, had few previous failures to draw upon — "He hasn't really had any," Wathan said — he at least had a ready roster of big-time athletes in his family with whom he could commiserate. His dad, Larry, was a CFL defensive back from 1981-89. His cousin, Carl, was a major-league outfielder for 15 years, ending last season. His older sister, Eliza, played softball at Cal State-Fullerton.

Certainly it appears they have kept him grounded, because he is singularly unimpressed by his draft status or ranking with various scouting services.

"I [couldn't] care less about that," he said. "All that doesn't really matter. Once you get on the field, everyone's the same. Everyone's the same player."

Though he was somewhat less than that early on. He was admittedly frustrated, but far from defeated.

"You've got to stay on the positive [side] on everything," he said. "You can't get too down on yourself, or else you're just going to do worse."

Had it been a major-league situation instead of a player-development situation, it is entirely possible that Wathan would have held him out of the lineup a day or two, just to let him clear his head.

"Or maybe not, because he contributes every night, somehow," the manager said.

And as Crawford said, "You're not going to get better sitting. You've got to go out there and play."

He admitted earlier this month that while he had once been reluctant about video study, he found great benefit in it when he was looking for answers in late April.

He decided to raise his hands while at the plate, and the hits began to come. He batted at a .253 clip over 24 games, including a six-game hitting streak, bringing his average to a season-best .196 on May 20.

Now it's back to the drawing board. It is, after all, a game of failure. It's just a matter of dealing with it, working through it, minimizing it.

He has become well-acquainted with the concept.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).