Wheeler to replace Lidge as closer

Wheeler to replace Lidge as closer

CHICAGO -- Brad Lidge has lost his closer's job before, but Monday's demotion happened in record time. It took only two outings for manager Phil Garner to decide to make a change.

Garner informed Lidge prior to Monday's series opener with the Chicago Cubs that he would not be closing games for the Astros in the foreseeable future. Instead, Garner will pitch Lidge in the sixth or seventh innings, with Dan Wheeler receiving most of the save opportunities.

Chad Qualls and Rick White will be used as setup men.

"Brad's not going to close as a general rule," Garner said. "There may be a situation where I may do it, but as of right now, I'm going to pitch him earlier in the game. I want to pitch him more often, give him more consistent work."

"Obviously, [I'm not] getting it done on the field," Lidge said. "And, obviously, at this point, we need to call it. So what I'm hoping for out of this is it will give me a chance to throw more innings more regularly and get myself into a good grove.

"It's obviously disappointing, but that's the way I'm going to approach it, as an opportunity to get more work in so I can get back quickly to where I want to be."

Lidge blew a save opportunity on Opening Day, and on Sunday, he allowed five runs -- two of which were earned -- in the ninth inning, in a game the Astros were already losing, 5-0.

"I feel like some of what he's going through is a little bit of bad luck," Garner said. "And some of it is his own doing. I don't know whether that's a confidence factor or what."

Garner pointed to Lidge's outing Sunday as an example. With runners on first and second and one out, Lidge induced a ground ball from Albert Pujols, but Mark Loretta bobbled the ball and instead of possibly turning the double play, the Cardinals had the bases loaded. Scott Rolen followed with a bases-clearing double that put the Cards ahead by eight.

"Yesterday, if we make the play, he's out of the inning," Garner said. "Even beyond that, he's good enough to finish off the inning, anyway. While we should have made the play behind him, he should have still gotten us out of the inning. Those are things that I have discussed with him."

Lidge said while Sunday's outing was tough, it didn't sting as much as the Opening Day appearance, when he was called upon to protect a lead and instead gave up a game-tying home run to Pirates outfielder Xavier Nady.

"I thought I threw, to be honest, a lot of pitches that for me are out of what makes me good," Lidge said of Sunday's game. "It's my fault for throwing those pitches and not throwing them where I want to throw them. It was one of those games where nothing was going right, and, unfortunately, it ended like it did, too with a bad outing for myself."

Two games of the season is not a sample to say he's done as a closer, Garner added, but the skipper does feel there is somewhat of a carryover from 2006, when Lidge lost his closer's role twice.

"I think he's not been as sharp as he should be," Garner said. "I want to give him first and foremost, more consistent work, and secondly, what I'm looking for out of this is an approach where I think he feels like when he comes out of the bullpen, then the game is over, it's done."

Lidge admitted he was surprised that this news came so early in the season.

"I was a little surprised because I've had two outings," he said. "It was surprising, but not totally unjustified. I understand that it's about results. Right now, my first two outings haven't been there. They want me to get in a good groove. It's been hard to get consistent work thus far.

"Hopefully, as our team plays better, I'll be pitching better. Hopefully this will be a fairly quick thing where I feel good getting my command back fast and get back in my role. But right now, I look at it as an opportunity to work on things that I need to work on."

Garner said he wrestled with this decision on Sunday night and felt this decision was best for the team. "We cannot afford to lose any more ballgames late," he said.

"I believe in Brad Lidge," Garner added. "It's not a question of whether I do not believe in Brad Lidge. Obviously, I think we're having some issues right now, and I feel we have to make this move for the benefit of the team. I believe he can get back on track.

"Brad will find his rightful place. We're going to have to work a little bit more to get there."

Wheeler, one of Lidge's closest friends on the team, said Lidge gave him his support as soon as the news came down.

"When they made the announcement today, Brad was the first one to say to me, 'Go with it. Don't look back,'" Wheeler said. "That's the kind of guy he is. In my opinion, Brad will be fine, and he'll be closing someday again."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.