Every five days when Cliff Lee takes the mound, the Phillies know what they are going to get. That’s seven to eight innings, a scattering of hits and runs and a lot of strikes.
Along with that comes a quick game and a very little time to daydream. In Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay), Lee got nine strikeouts and didn’t walk a single batter.
In fact, Lee had just one three-ball count all night while improving to 9-2 with a 2.53 ERA.
“He takes the game and he absolutely controls it,” manager Charlie Manuel said after the victory. “He runs it at his tempo. He sets the speed and everything about the game. He can speed it up and he can slow it down, and when he gets the ball he knows he has three pitches and he wants to throw them. I love the way he pitches, especially on nights like tonight.”
With Roy Halladay recovering from surgery and Cole Hamels struggling through a rough season, Lee also controls the vibe in the clubhouse.
Yet as the one sure thing on the 25-man roster, Lee may draw a little more attention about his future with the Phillies in the next month or so. With two more years left on his five-year, $120 million contract, Lee could be on the trading block if general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. wants to “blow it up.”
Lee addressed his future with the Phillies after beating the Twins on three hits over seven innings in his last start. After beating the Nationals by scattering five hits through eight innings, the topic was broached again.
And once again, Lee did not change his tune.
He wants to win with the Phillies. But more than that, Lee wants to win. That’s it. If people want to believe that it means Lee wants to get traded to a contender, go ahead and believe that. Lee isn’t going to lose any sleep over it.
“I don’t really care how it’s interpreted to be honest with you. I want to win. I signed here to win and that’s never going to change no matter who asks me,” Lee said after his seventh straight win and his sixth start this season with at least eight innings pitched. “I think it's misconstrued in thinking I wanted to play somewhere else and that’s not the case. I want to win and I want to win here and that’s it.
“I’m going to continue to answer questions honestly and that’s how I’m going to do it.”
Lee also just keeps gobbling up innings and winning ballgames.
“Cliff pitched like Cliff. He’s been unbelievable,” said Kevin Frandsen, who went 1 for 4 with a clutch two-run single in a three-run sixth inning. “Cliff is a ballplayer. He’s what you want from a baseball player and he’s a starting pitcher.”
Perhaps Lee’s pitching can lift a team the way a big home run or a clutch hit can. As Lee tore through the Nats’ lineup, retiring 11 of the first 12 he faced and 13 of the final 15, the Phillies’ hitters seemed to take their cues from him. When Jayson Werth slugged a solo homer with two outs in the fourth inning, the Phillies quickly manufactured a run with Michael Young setting the table.
Young went 3 for 4 with three doubles, two runs and an RBI. He would have gone 4 for 4 if Nats starting pitcher Ross Detwiler hadn’t luckily grabbed a screaming liner headed back through the box.
In the fourth, Young doubled, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Jimmy Rollins and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Ryan Howard. In the sixth, Young drove home Ben Revere with another double after the leadoff man started the inning with a bunt single. Later, Young scored from third when Frandsen singled with two outs in the inning.
With Young swinging the bat well at the top of the lineup, the Phillies’ hitters have had plenty of chances to score runs. Since the calendar flipped to June, Young has been one of the team’s hottest hitters, going 22 for 58 (.379) with five doubles, six runs and a .390 on-base percentage.
This comes after a month of May in which Young batted .172, struck out 13 times and grounded into six double plays.
“I think he was trying too hard. He expects a lot out of himself and he wants to do good for us,” Manuel said. “He started to relax a little and his bat looks quicker to me.”
Meanwhile, Lee has been making the opposition’s bats look a lot slower this season. Sporting a 0.95 WHIP with just 17 walks and 98 strikeouts in 110 innings this season, Lee has been the one thing the Phillies can always count on all year.
But for how much longer?
“I’m confident we can win,” Lee said. “If we can get all the guys on the field I think we can beat anyone. And I’m confident that the organization is going to do everything they can to field the best team. Those are all the reasons why I came here and that’s what I expect and I think that’s what everyone here should expect.”