Brad Lidge retires a Phillie, reflects on memories

brad-slidge-slide-ap.jpg

Brad Lidge retires a Phillie, reflects on memories

The memory is still clear as can be for Brad Lidge.

From the grip he had on the baseball, to the screaming pile of players on top of him and Carlos Ruiz, the final pitch (and its subsequent result) of the 2008 World Series remains a vivid series of events to Lidge.

And even though he said it’s a feeling that’s “indescribable,” he did his best to recall that moment when he formally retired as a Phillie during a press conference Thursday at Citizens Bank Park.

“Chooch and I, we actually had the chance to talk a few days ago. We were saying when we were at the bottom of that pile neither of us could really breath, our faces were pushed next to each other, but we were still screaming,” Lidge said with a smile on his face.

“It was just that feeling, it didn't matter if the weight of the world was on you or whatever, but it felt like no one was on you at that point.”

That pitch to strike out the Rays' Eric Hinske is still etched into the minds of Phillies fans, but for good measure it was brought back to light prior to the team's Thursday night game against the Giants.

After the pitch was shown on the jumbotron, Lidge, welcomed by a roaring applause and standing ovation, walked from the bullpen to the mound and tossed out the first pitch to, none other than, Carlos Ruiz.

But it was more than just one moment or one pitch that brought Lidge back to Philly to retire.

He could have retired with the Astros and Lidge would have a solid case to back it up.

Lidge was drafted by Houston in the 1998 draft and spent five full seasons with the Astros after working through the club’s minor-league system.

But Lidge said the memories made over four years in Philly outweighed his longer stay in Houston, presenting him a simple decision on where to retire.

“Even though I did spend a little more time in Houston, this organization, what we accomplished in 2008 and the people here are so first-class that this decision became pretty easy for me,” Lidge said.

Those experiences included a perfect 2008 season for Lidge, converting 48 saves in 48 save opportunities both in the regular season and postseason. Coming off a torn meniscus he suffered that spring training, Lidge earned the MLB Comeback Player of the Year award and was eighth in NL MVP voting.

But one of Lidge’s fondest reflections on that 2008 campaign was the collective effort put forth by the Phillies.

Lidge said it helped staying in the present every time he took the hill, but it was the backing of his teammates that propelled him and the team through the season.

“There was nobody in the clubhouse who felt they were outside of or above anybody else,” the Sacramento native said. “On that team there were so many All-Stars, but everybody was playing together. The clubhouse was so tight that year it was incredible.”

Sitting next to Lidge at the press conference was current Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who doled out high praises of his former closer from both a front-office and fan perspective.

“What he did in 2008 was historical for our franchise [and] historical for our city. It was probably one of the greatest moments I've ever been around as a person who's been involved in athletics for a long, long time,” Amaro said. “As a fan and as an assistant GM that year, it was a very, very proud moment.”

Lidge didn’t fail to mention the connection he had with the city of Philadelphia during his time here.

The 36-year-old, dwelling on the aura of closing games in front of Phillies crowds, said the supporting fans were with him and behind him when the ninth inning rolled around.

“The ninth inning kind of makes people feel alive a little bit. ... You're going through it as a player, but the fans are going through it,” Lidge said. “They're kind of going through it with me. That kind of creates a bond there that's maybe different than other positions.”

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."