Notes: Lidge dominating again

Notes: Lidge dominating again

HOUSTON -- For many, Brad Lidge's three saves this past week were the sign needed to proclaim Lidge was officially "back" as one of the elite closers in all of baseball. But according to Lidge, it shouldn't have come as any surprise.

The Astros closer hasn't allowed a run in 17 of his last 18 appearances. Since May 19, he's allowed one earned run in 20 innings with a 0.45 ERA and 29 strikeouts and an incredible .108 batting average against. For the season, he's 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA and is third-best in the National League with a 12.48 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio.

In other words, Lidge has been dominant for almost the entire season. The only difference is now he's doing it in the ninth inning as opposed to the seventh and eighth, so he's getting that official "S" for save next to his name.

"It's interesting when people sometimes say, 'You must be feeling better now that you have some saves,'" Lidge said. "Really, I've been feeling better for a while. It's just that I'm throwing in the ninth now, so I have some saves to show for it. But I've been confident for a few months now.

"I'm not changing anything from what I was doing. I'm staying aggressive and going right after guys."

Lidge posted two particularly impressive saves against the Pirates over the weekend, both with only a one-run cushion. On Friday, he evaded a bases-loaded, one-out jam by striking out Matt Kata and Freddy Sanchez in succession. On Sunday, he struck out the side and stranded the tying run in scoring position.

Five of Lidge's six outs over the weekend were by strikeout, with almost all of them -- including both to end the games -- courtesy of a devastating slider. Lidge credits his command of the slider this year with his return to form.

"It's a huge difference for me," Lidge said. "If I can mix in my slider for a strike when I need to and then still put it out of the zone when I need to, that's big. If I continue to throw them low, eventually the hitter will get the idea that you can lay off it because I can't throw it for a strike.

"The reason I [can do that] is I think mechanically I'm more in sync this year. If my mechanics are off, I can't [locate] the slider. Everything comes from staying closed for me."

Deadline talk: With Hunter Pence on the shelf for the next four to six weeks, the Astros are scouring the market for a center fielder who can step into that role this year, and possibly beyond.

If the Astros can find a true center fielder, they could move Pence to right next year, with Carlos Lee staying put in left field.

Owner Drayton McLane sat in on meetings with general manager Tim Purpura and his staff on Tuesday and confirmed that the Astros are talking to "multiple clubs about different opportunities."

McLane added that the Astros are looking aggressively for outfielders and infielders.

"You've got to respond to what other people want to accomplish and what they're willing to give," McLane said.

Day-to-day: Although Jason Lane started in center field on Tuesday in place of the injured Pence, manager Phil Garner says the center-field spot will continue to be a "day-to-day" situation depending on the particular matchup. Chris Burke and Eric Bruntlett will also receive time there.

For Lane, it's an opportunity at redemption after struggling to a .165 average in the first two months with Houston. But after being demoted to Triple-A Round Rock on June 3, Lane found his form, hitting .308 with eight home runs in 42 games.

"It's amazing when you get everyday at-bats and you can make adjustments day-to-day," Lane said. "You can get in a groove. It's been a while since I felt that.

"Once you stop playing [as he had in Houston], this game gets tough. Mentally, it makes it tough to stay confident and stay dialed in. Once I started playing every day, I started getting results and that does everything for your confidence."

Although Lane hasn't played much in center field with the Astros, he played it on a regular basis in Round Rock and said he anticipates no problems defensively with playing the position.

Step forward: With the Astros back home, injured shortstop Adam Everett is back in the Minute Maid Park clubhouse and walking without a limp after breaking his right leg on June 14.

That's a distinct change from when the Astros were last home two weeks ago. Back then, Everett's leg remained in a brace as he gingerly took a few steps around the clubhouse.

Everett says he's still not quite ready to start running, and feels some tenderness when he puts too much pressure on his right leg. But at least in terms of regular walking activities, he's back to normal, and that's a positive step.

"It's going better," Everett said. "I can't run yet, and that has a lot to do with baseball. But I'm walking much better."

Everett said there's no specific timetable for his return to the team, and that it's all based on how he's feeling. He said that once he can run -- and that may be soon -- it shouldn't take much longer before he's back on the field.

"Hopefully it's a week or two weeks," Everett said. "I think once I can start to push off and start to run, it'll be real soon. I think there's a time I'll need to get through the pain, and once that happens, it should be clear sailing."

Garner, however, stopped short of guaranteeing that Everett would automatically resume his everyday role as the starting shortstop upon his return to the active roster. Bruntlett has hit well (.293) since his promotion to the team and plays capable defense at short, so he could still be in the mix.

Coming up: The Astros and Dodgers will finish their three-game series in Houston on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. Right-hander Matt Albers (2-4, 5.76 ERA) will take the place of the injured Roy Oswalt and start for Houston, squaring off with Los Angeles right-hander Derek Lowe (8-9, 3.48).

Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.