Blue Jays 5, Phillies 3: Lee sharp, offense dull

Blue Jays 5, Phillies 3: Lee sharp, offense dull
March 4, 2014, 10:00 pm
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Cliff Lee allowed one run on three hits and no walks in three innings Tuesday. (USA Today Images)


CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pack the bags. Let’s get out of here. Start the regular season. Cliff Lee is ready.

In his second start of the spring Tuesday night, Lee threw darts at the Toronto Blue Jays for three innings. The 35-year-old left-hander allowed three hits and a run. He struck out two and did not walk a batter.

“Three innings, one run, didn’t walk anyone,” Lee said in his typical understated way. “I’m pretty happy with that.”

Manager Ryne Sandberg was not happy with his team's offense in the 5-3 loss (see below), but he liked what he saw of Lee, the presumed opening day starter.

“I thought he looked sharp,” Sandberg said.

Opening day is 27 days away and Lee has at least four spring starts remaining. But this guy is such a machine, it got us to wondering: If opening day were here, right now, could Lee answer the bell?

“I think so,” Lee said. “I don’t think I could throw the whole game. But I think I could throw six or seven innings pretty -- well, not easily, but physically I think I’d be able to do it.”

That answer shows what high standards Lee has. Some pitchers look in the dugout for a lifeline after five innings. Lee doesn’t think he’s ready to go the whole game, but six or seven innings? Sure. Gimme the ball.

This is Lee’s fourth spring training with the Phillies. Anyone who has paid close attention to his comments from previous springs knows his objective at this stage of camp is establishing fastball command. His ultimate goal?

“Throwing every pitch exactly where I want it,” he said. “It’s never going to completely be that way, but I want to get as close to that as I can.”

Lee got pretty close last September when he made five starts, struck out 50 batters and walked one.

The guy can hit a gnat in the eye from 60 feet when he’s on.

Lee loves his fastball. According to Baseball Info Solutions data, he threw his fastball and cut fastball 76 percent of the time last year. He threw his changeup about 16 percent of the time. The rest of the time, he threw curveballs.

Sandberg would like to see Lee feature his curveball a little more, even if it’s just for show. Sandberg is not the first to say this. Hall of Famer and former Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan said the same thing during Lee's time with that club.

Lee is making a conscious effort to throw more curveballs this spring, but he will not do it at the expense of his other pitches.

“I want to locate fastballs, for sure, and cutters and change-ups,” he said. “Those are the most important things for me. I definitely need to use my curveball more often, but I still need to make sure I get my fastball, cutter and change-up down before I move on to other things.”

Ironically, Lee called the curveball his best pitch.

“Just the action on the pitch, as far as what the pitch does, I feel like it’s my best pitch,” he said. “But it’s hard for me to command it, so it’s hard for me to justify throwing it when I think I can locate a fastball, cutter or change-up at a higher percentage. I command my curveball at a lower percentage.”

Lee hopes that throwing more curveballs this spring might help him command it better. However, he only threw a few Tuesday night and that wasn’t until the third inning, after he felt he had a handle on everything else.

The guy is true to his values: fastball, cutter, change-up first.

Lee will spend the rest of spring training building endurance so he can get over 100 pitches -- he threw just 38 in three innings Tuesday night -- and have a chance to pitch a complete game in his first regular-season outing.

He’s ready to go six or seven innings right now. But he wants more that.

Another loss
The Phillies are 1-6 in Grapefruit League play and that’s not sitting well with Sandberg.

He was asked whether losing exhibition games bothers him.

“Absolutely,” he said. “I don’t like to lose. I want to win games.”

Sandberg bemoaned the team’s offense, which is hitting just .194 with a .298 on-base percentage and a .269 slugging percentage.

“It seems likes the other team has that one inning where they put up a crooked number and our offense can’t overcome that,” he said. “We seem to have the bases loaded every game or two men on base and we get nothing out of it. It’s something we have to work on. With more at-bats, usually guys will start swinging better.”

Marlon Byrd is swinging well. He had a two-run homer off R.A. Dickey and is hitting .385.

Up next
Sean O’Sullivan starts for the Phillies against Atanta’s Brandon Beachy at 1 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.