Cliff Lee sharp in final spring training start

Cliff Lee sharp in final spring training start

March 29, 2013, 9:15 pm
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Now, that is the way to finish spring training.

One day after Roy Halladay sputtered in his final exhibition tuneup, the Phillies’ other former Cy Young Award winner was encouragingly sharp.

“Felt good,” Cliff Lee said after four strong innings. “Spring training is over, and it’s time to get ready for the real games.

“This is my last chance to get ready for the season, and I wanted to approach it more like a real game. … You always want to have good outings no matter when it is, but you definitely want to finish the spring with a good outing.”

Lee pitched four shutout innings against the Blue Jays, striking out five and allowing just one hit in the Phils’ On-Deck Series exhibition game at Citizens Bank Park, a 1-0 loss Friday evening.

Although much more scrutiny had been placed on Halladay’s spring struggles, Lee’s Grapefruit League numbers were almost as ominous.

In his first five spring training appearances, Lee allowed 24 hits and 11 earned runs in 16 2/3 innings for a 5.94 ERA, although his strikeout-to-walk ratio – 19 to 4 – was impressive.

But while Halladay did little on Thursday to allay concerns that he’d be ready for the regular season, allowing eight hits and two earned runs to the Blue Jays in 4 1/3 innings in Clearwater, Lee was terrific Friday.

“Cliff Lee, he was good, real good,” Charlie Manuel said. “Good tempo, good rhythm, good curveball, and he used it effectively tonight. Good location. Best he’s thrown so far.”

Lee threw 48 pitches, 37 of them for strikes. The Blue Jays hit only one ball hard against him, a booming double off the right-field wall by Jose Bautista in the first.

“Early in the spring, you’re just working on locating your fastball, and as spring goes along, you start to focus more on results,” Lee said. “You start reading the hitter and seeing what you think will get him out at that particular tie more than focusing just on what you want to work on.”

Lee went just 6-9 last year although he had a respectable 3.16 ERA. Manuel expects much different results this year.

“We’re going to play better defense than we did last year,” he said. “If he pitches like he did tonight, he’ll win a lot of games. When the season starts, I think you’ll see an even better from his fastball.”

Lee, 33, is scheduled to make his regular-season debut on Thursday in the third game of the Phillies’ three-game season-opening series against the Braves in Atlanta. Cole Hamels is slated to pitch the opener Monday, with Halladay due to pitch Wednesday.

“Everyone gets pretty anxious every spring when it gets down to the end,” Lee said. “It was definitely good to get up to Philly and play in front of the home fans and get ready for the season.”

Wednesday will be Hamels’ first career opening-day start. Halladay has started the last three openers, Brett Myers the three before that. Hamels will be Phils’ first lefty opening-day starter since Omar Daal in 2001 and their first home-grown lefty to start an opener since Bruce Ruffin in 1990.

“He’s coming into his own,” Lee said of Hamels. “He’s had a pretty good stretch of years the last few years. He’s been here the longest, he’s come up through the organization, and it’s his time to step up and be the guy, and I think he’s up for the challenge. He’s earned the right to be the opening-day starter.”

Monday will be the Phillies’ first opener since 2007 that didn’t follow a playoff run, and Lee said the mood throughout the spring has been different than in past seasons because of last year’s injury-plagued 81-81 season.

“I think there’s a little bit more focus and intensity this spring because of the failures we had last year,” he said. “Guys are more focused on getting ready. There’s a real we’ll-show-everyone mentality. That’s a good thing.”

The shutout loss was the Phils’ first this spring. The Blue Jays scored the game’s only run in the top of the fifth on J.P. Arencibia’s leadoff homer on Phillippe Aumont’s first pitch of the game.

“It was our third game under the lights this year,” Manuel said. “That might have had something to do with the offense. We’re definitely ready to start the season.”

The homer was only the third earned run and fourth hit Aumont has allowed in 8 1/3 innings this spring.

This and that
Jeremy Horst, Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon also pitched for the Phils, with Horst throwing two scoreless innings and Adams and Papelbon one each. … Starter Mark Buehrle pitched five innings of two-hit shutout ball for the Blue Jays. … Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Erik Kratz had the Phillies’ four hits. … Freddy Galvis, playing short, robbed Maicer Izturis in the top of the ninth with a sliding snag of a hard shot on the first-base side of second and perfect throw to first.

What’s next
In Game 2 of the On-Deck Series, the exhibition season finale, the Phillies and Blue Jays will meet at 1:05 p.m. Saturday, with Josh Johnson (4-0, 1.13) facing Kyle Kendrick (1-2, 5.14). The Phillies are 16-16-1 this spring.

In the regular-season opener on Monday, Tim Hudson goes for career win No. 198 against Hamels. Paul Maholm and Kris Medlen are scheduled to pitch Wednesday and Thursday for Atlanta.

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