'Different' Lee dominates in Phils' win over Fish

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'Different' Lee dominates in Phils' win over Fish

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The slogan on the new T-shirts the Phillies were sporting around the clubhouse on Monday afternoon was perfect. Too perfect given the way Monday night’s 12-2 win over the Marlins unfolded at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).

On the front of the shirt was a big picture of Cliff Lee’s face, his hair sweaty and disheveled, sporting a few days of growth on his face with an intense look.

Beneath the picture read the phrase, “I’m Different.”

Yes, Lee’s teammates know him all too well.

Lately, Lee’s performances on the mound have been extraordinary, but Monday night’s was extraordinarily different. See, not only did Lee pitch eight innings for the third game in a row to go with a season-high 14 strikeouts to earn his 14th win of the season, but he also went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and the first triple of his career.

Afterwards, manager Ryne Sandberg said all Lee could talk about was his triple.

“Oh, yeah. He couldn't be more happy about his hitting,” Sandberg said. “We just wanted him to go out and concentrate on his pitching.”

Lee became the first Phillies pitcher to get three hits and four RBIs in a game since a right-hander named “Fidgety” Phil Collins did it in an 11-5 win over the Pirates on July 22, 1930. In that one, Fidgety Phil slugged two homers, which is the way Lee would have preferred to do it rather than hustling around the bases for a stand-up triple.

But that’s all in the game for Lee, who doesn’t play like the typical pitcher. He runs the bases hard, hustles down the line on sacrifice bunts and makes plays in the field, like the one in the second inning when Chase Utley scooped the ball out of his glove to Lee’s bare hand to narrowly rob Logan Morrison of an infield single.

Though he says he’d rather trot around the bases and back to the dugout, Lee isn’t bashful about being a real baseball player as opposed to just a pitcher.

He’s different that way.

“When you’re on the bases it usually means you did something productive,” Lee said. “You worked your way on base. Once you’re there you have to run the bases.

“I try to do everything I can to help the team win. I take it all serious.”

With a .179 batting average and six RBIs, Lee says he is leading the pitchers’ season-long hitting competition. Hardly a friendly competition, Lee is still looking for his first win despite hitting two homers with seven RBIs and a .200 batting average in 2011.

Regardless, Sandberg said he wanted Lee to concentrate on his pitching and there was room for hitting and pitching on Monday night.

In improving to 14-6 with a 2.95 ERA, Lee surpassed the 200-strikeout plateau for the third straight season, as well as the 200-innings marker for the sixth straight year. He also became the first Phillies pitcher to get 14 strikeouts without allowing a walk since Curt Schilling did it against the Yankees on Sept. 1, 1997.

More importantly, Lee gave the bullpen a break after an arduous weekend in Washington. Since the All-Star break, Phils pitchers not named Lee or Cole Hamels have a 7.58 ERA. That means a lot of work for the relievers.

But it’s essentially a night off when Lee takes the mound. He has pitched eight innings in his last three starts, as well as in five of his last seven outings. During that span, Lee has a 4-1 record with a 2.25 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 52 innings.

Lee says he doesn’t try to get strikeouts but sometimes they are a circumstance of the game. With a big lead thanks to a six-run third inning, Lee could keep his approach simple and be aggressive. Strikeouts come quickly when all a pitcher does is throw strikes.

“Just being ahead in the count and pounding the strike zone -- I had a lot of two-strike counts,” Lee said. “I’m not really trying to strike guys out, to be honest with you. I’m just continuing to try and throw strikes and that’s a factor of when you throw strikes and they weren’t squaring it up.”

With a 70-80 record and two more starts likely for Lee, the Phillies' focus is on finishing the season strong. As Lee says, the idea is to play out the season until it’s over whether that means a trip to the playoffs or not.

“That’s part of winning. No matter what team you’re on and no matter what the circumstances are, you have to play hard and you can’t take a single play off or a single pitch off or anything,” Lee said. “It’s about being aggressive and being in the moment and being in tune with what’s going on. If everyone is doing that and everyone is prepared the right way, I like our chances. We have talent. It’s just a matter of executing and staying aggressive.”

The series continues on Tuesday night when Roy Halladay (3-4, 7.28) faces lefty Brian Flynn (0-1, 10.13). Halladay has faced the Marlins twice this year, including the May 5 outing in which he gave up nine runs on four hits and four walks. It was shortly after that game when Halladay learned he needed to have surgery on his right shoulder.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.