Results tagged ‘ Cliff Lee ’

What’s Wrong, Cliff?

Nobody seems to know what’s wrong with Cliff Lee.

Actually, they do know. They’re just not saying.

Consider this:

  • He has allowed five or more earned runs in three consecutive starts, carrying an 8.64 ERA in that span.
  • He has a 5.68 ERA in his last eight starts, blowing two three-run leads, one two-run lead and one one-run lead.
  • He has a 5.87 ERA in six starts since Roy Halladay threw his last pitch for the Phillies on May 27.
  • He is 0-5 with a 4.13 ERA for the season.
  • The Phillies are 3-10 when he starts.

Is Lee healthy?

“Physically, I feel fine,” he said.

Is he tipping pitches?

“I don’t know,” he said.

Are the winless record and recent struggles getting to him, affecting him mentally on the mound and in between starts?

“No,” he said.

This is just my opinion, but I think Lee’s problems are more mental than mechanical. I think he’s frustrated and I think those frustrations have carried onto the mound. I tried asking Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee about Lee’s struggles today, but Dubee wasn’t about to offer any insight about his $120 million ace.

“I’m not going there,” he said.

Why not?

“He doesn’t need anything in the paper.”

Are you concerned?

“Yeah, I want to see him pitch better. Yeah.”

Do you think it’s easily fixable?

“I’m not going into it.”

But it is fixable?

“Does he have talent still? Yeah? Well.”

Could it just be a bad stretch?

“I’m not going into it.”

Do you think his frustrations are affecting him mentally?

“I’m not going into it.”

If it were an easily fixable mechanical problem, I suspect Dubee would have just said, “We saw something. We’re working on it.” But if it’s more of a mental issue, he might not want that being discussed publicly. Maybe that’s why he didn’t say anything this afternoon.

Then again, sometimes Dubee just isn’t in the mood to talk.

Spread the Blame

Hola, amigos.

The Phillies are 34-40, nine games behind the Nationals (11 behind in the loss column) and 5 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot (check my math on that). Fans are angry with some of Charlie Manuel‘s moves in yesterday’s losses. Should he have tried to squeeze an extra inning from Cole Hamels on a hot day, despite throwing 111 pitches? Should he have used somebody in the eighth inning other than Antonio Bastardo, who had thrown 29 pitches a day earlier? Should he have pinch-hit Juan Pierre for Michael Martinez in the eighth inning?

They’re all valid questions, but let’s be honest here.

The blame for this team’s failures can be spread everywhere.

Let’s look back to the offseason.

The Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a $50 million contract in November, but did nothing other than sign Chad Qualls in late January to help the bullpen. They essentially bet on Jose Contreras, 41, coming back from elbow surgery and pitching effectively for an entire season and Qualls pitching effectively, despite the fact he had a 5.05 ERA away from PETCO Park last year. It’s not hindsight to say people questioned whether or not the Phillies bullpen would be good enough. Those questions were asked throughout the offseason and Spring Training. But I didn’t have a problem with Manuel using Bastardo in the eighth inning in Game 1 yesterday. Bastardo had thrown 29 or more pitches in an appearance just four times in his career and he had never pitched the next day until yesterday. But so what? Is there a huge difference between 20 pitches and 29 pitches? Are nine pitches the difference between throwing strikes and not throwing strikes? Get real. No, the real problem is this: If Manuel doesn’t use Bastardo, he uses Qualls. And if Qualls blows the lead, everybody is killing Manuel because he used Qualls and stayed away from Bastardo “because he threw 29 pitches the day before.” Manuel is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t because he has a bad bullpen. The Phillies bullpen has a 4.48 ERA, which ranks 25th in baseball. It’s pick your poison.

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Rotation Problems

The numbers can be sliced and rearranged a number of ways, but one thing is undeniable:

The Phillies have not seen their rotation pitch this poorly in a long time.

In 24 games since May 18, Phillies starters are 6-12 with a 5.70 ERA (91 earned runs in 143 2/3 innings). In 15 games since May 27, when Roy Halladay pitched his final game for the Phillies before landing on the disabled list with a strained right latissimus dorsi, Phillies starters are 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA (59 earned runs in 89 innings).

“It’s a whole gamut of things,” Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said.

Much of it is mental.

“One starter thinks I’ve got to be the guy tonight,” Dubee said. “And then when that doesn’t happen the next guy says, oh, geez, I’ve got to really be good. It’s been a mishmash of all kinds of stuff. Focus. We get distracted easily. Do we press? Yeah, absolutely.”

The lack of focus comes from frustration; things that happen on the field out of their control. That could be a booted ball in the infield. A broken bat hit that scores a run. It could be a dropped fly ball in the outfield or an errant throw. Maybe it is a really good pitch down in the dirt that a hitters golfs out of the park or off the wall. It could be the offense failing to score runs for them again.

“There’s a whole combination of stuff out there,” Dubee said.

Offense has not been a problem for the Phillies lately. They are fifth in the National League in scoring since May 18, averaging 4.67 runs per game, and third in scoring since Halladay’s last start for the Phillies, averaging 5.13 runs per game.

But the errors and a lack of run support over a long period of time can wear on even the most steely-minded pitcher. Even Halladay seemed to be worn down from those issues before he got hurt.

But what can Phillies pitchers do?

“Stay in your own house,” Dubee said. “Control what you can control. Execute pitches. Don’t get caught up on a broken bat hit or a play not being made or runs not being scored. You don’t have any control over that as a pitcher. You don’t have control winning games. Cliff (Lee) hasn’t had any luck or control in winning a game. All you can do is execute pitches and grind and grind and grind.”

Bad News from St. Louis

Cross your fingers.

Roy Halladay left today’s start in St. Louis after the second inning with what the Phillies call “shoulder soreness.” They said he left for precautionary reasons, but the fact Halladay feels anything in his shoulder is not encouraging. He told reporters in St. Louis he started to feel something in the back of his shoulder in his last start last week against Washington, but Rich Dubee said the issue has been lingering a bit longer than that. Of course, it is possible Halladay has been feeling something since spring training. Everybody remembers Ken Rosenthal‘s report from a couple scouts that Halladay lacked velocity and sharpness. Halladay denied any talk he might be injured, although he did not deny he lacked the velocity he had in the past.

“Yeah, I’m 34 and 2,500 innings, it does take a while to get going,” he said in March. “I don’t pay attention to that. The older you get, the more you throw, the longer it takes you to get yourself going. When I came up I threw 98. Last year I was throwing 92-93. It’s not unusual. When you get older it takes you longer. The more innings you throw the more it takes to get yourself going again.”

Halladay was 3-2 with a 1.95 ERA in five starts in May, easing those concerns. But the discussion about his drop in velocity continued. Pitch f/x figures are not always accurate (they weren’t with Halladay early this season), but looking at those pitch f/x numbers anyway, Halladay’s sinker averaged 93.29 mph in 2010, 92.71 mph in 2011 and 91.6 mph this season. His cutter averaged 92.03 mph in 2012, 91.47 mph in 2011 and 89.58 mph this season. Dubee dismissed concerns about Halladay’s velocity, saying last month in San Francisco, “He’s got four pitches. He throws to both sides of the plate at any time. And overall he doesn’t use the meat of the plate. That’s what pitching is about. It isn’t about velocity. Velocity allows you one thing. It might allow you to get away with some mistakes. But straight velocity without location, and velocity without an option of being able to go soft or go backwards as far as pure speed, those guys get waffled.”

But another indication Halladay hasn’t been right is the fact he has thrown fewer two-seam fastballs. During his starts in 2010, 33 percent of his pitches were sinkers. In 2011 it dropped to 20 percent and this season it dropped to 16 percent. If pitchers don’t feel good about their fastball they often resort to their offspeed pitches, which could be the case here. (I recall Brett Myers relying a lot on his cutter a few years ago when he lost velocity on his fastball.)

Halladay blew a six-run lead in Atlanta on May 2, and looked bad again last week against Washington when he allowed five runs in six innings. He is 1-3 with a 6.11 ERA in six starts this month. Opponents are hitting .312 against him. Asked after his start against the Nationals if he was healthy, Halladay offered a don’t-be-ridiculous smile and said, “Yeah. Yeah.”

It turns out, wasn’t.

He will get reevaluated Tuesday. I would be shocked if he made his next start, although they could skip a turn with an off day Thursday. But I would be more surprised if Halladay did not end up on the DL. He’s a $20 million pitcher and means too much to the organization to risk throwing him back out there too soon. If it really is nothing serious like Halladay believes — he said it’s different than the shoulder problem that put him on the DL twice in 2004 — there’s no harm in shutting him down for a couple weeks and making sure the shoulder gets as healthy as possible.

But serious or not, this injury certainly has several potential implications:

  • The Rotation. If Halladay misses any amount of time, Kyle Kendrick will remain in the rotation. (He has a 1.64 ERA in his last five starts.) If Vance Worley can get back in a reasonable amount of time, the rotation will include Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Joe Blanton, Worley and Kendrick. That’s not bad. But if Worley (right elbow inflammation) isn’t ready soon, the Phillies will have to look to Triple-A Lehigh Valley for a short-term replacement. Options include Dave Bush (4-3, 2.73 ERA in 9 starts), Tyler Cloyd (4-1, 2.15 ERA in six starts) and Scott Elarton (5-1, 2.98 ERA in nine starts).
  • Roy Oswalt. The Phillies watched Oswalt throw a bullpen session a couple weeks ago. It has been written Oswalt prefers to stay close to home in Mississippi, but don’t read too much into that. There were similar reports before he accepted a trade to the Phillies in 2010. If Halladay’s injury is serious and he misses a significant amount of time, Oswalt would make a lot of sense if the Phillies were willing to meet his asking price. The Phillies are still trying to stay below the $178 million luxury tax threshold, but Oswalt would put them over the top.
  • Cole Hamels. If Hamels is intent on taking the biggest offer on the open market this winter, the Phillies could make the argument they would be better served spending that money elsewhere (offense!) because they are the rare team with two other aces already in the rotation (Halladay and Lee). But if the news Tuesday is bad, the Phillies might not feel so comfortable about their pitching moving forward. Maybe it increases their urgency to sign Hamels.

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Jim Salisbury and I co-authored the book The Rotation, which is now available. Check it out here! Here are our upcoming book signings:

  • June 2: Citizens Bank Park, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.
  • June 16: Barnes & Noble, Wilmington, Del, 2 p.m.

Check out my Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter.

Lee Back on Wednesday

Cliff Lee is back.

He threw a lengthy bullpen session this morning at Nationals Park, and pronounced himself fit and ready to return to the Phillies rotation on Wednesday. He has been on the disabled list since April 19 with a strained left oblique.

“Everything is normal,” Lee said.

If he continues to feel OK – and there is no reason to think he will not – he will face the New York Mets on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park. Kyle Kendrick, who had been starting in Lee’s place, will return to the bullpen.

Lee is 0-1 with a 1.96 ERA in three starts.

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Jim Salisbury and I co-authored the book The Rotation, which is now available. Check it out here! Here are our upcoming book signings:

  • May 10: Tredyfrrin Public Library in Stafford, PA, 7:30 p.m.
  • June 2: Citizens Bank Park, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Check out my Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter.

Lee Could Be Back Next Week

Cliff Lee could be back in the Phillies rotation early next week.

Today he threw his first bullpen session since straining his left oblique April 18 in San Francisco. Lee reported no pain. He said if he feels fine tomorrow, he is scheduled to throw a second bullpen session Saturday. Assuming that goes well, he could pitch for the Phillies a few days later at Citizens Bank Park.

“I feel good about it,” Lee said. “If things go well, it’s one more bullpen and then the game. That’s the plan for now, but that’s all flexible.”

Lee said he has been pain-free recently.

“It did linger a little bit,” he said. “But it’s slowly gotten better. But the last two days have been drastically better than the four or five days before that. It just kind of plateaud and stayed the same. But the last two has been good.”

Asked if it is safe to say the problem is gone, Lee said, “Everything throw, I didn’t feel anything. There are a couple exercises I do where I can barely feel it, but compared to how it was before it’s pretty safe to say it’s on its way to being gone.”

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Domonic Brown strained his left hamstring today in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is day to day.

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Right-hander David Herndon has a strained pronator tendon. He is not throwing for three weeks.

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The guys at Phillies Nation TV had me on this week to talk about The Rotation. Check it out!

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Jim Salisbury and I co-authored the book The Rotation, which is now available. Check it out here! Here are our upcoming book signings:

  • May 10: Tredyfrrin Public Library in Stafford, PA, 7:30 p.m.
  • June 2: Citizens Bank Park, 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Check out my Facebook page. Follow me on Twitter.has a strained pronator tendon. He is not throwing for three weeks.

Pence: ‘I’m Letting It Eat’

Hunter Pence had a MRI exam this morning on his left shoulder.

He got good news. He has a bruised rotator cuff. There is no structural damage.

Pence, who is in the lineup for tonight’s game, said he woke up this morning feeling much better. He took the MRI and later arrived at Chase Field, where he told the Phillies he thought he could play. He took some swings in the cage with hitting coach Greg Gross and head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan watching. They determined he could play.

“When I started swinging, I’m letting it eat,” Pence said. “I’m ready to go.”

“That’s good,” Charlie Manuel said. “Then I hope it eats a lot then.”

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Pick up or Shake Up?

“Sometimes, there’s just no answers. We’re in that area right now where I don’t have any answers.” – Jimmy Rollins.

The Phillies came within one out from suffering their second shutout loss in four games (and their third shutout loss in eight games) in last night’s 5-1 loss to the Padres. After today’s series finale against the Padres, the Phillies play three games against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix and four games against the Cubs at home before hitting the road for six games against Atlanta and Washington.

The Phillies are in the middle of a stretch of 20 games in 21 days with 16 of those games on the road.

They are 7-8 this season, while the first-place Nationals are 12-4 and the second-place Braves are 10-5.

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Wasted

Cliff Lee’s teammates expressed their frustrations and condolences tonight at AT&T Park.

He deserved better a fate.

He pitched 10 scoreless innings in a 1-0 loss to the Giants in 11 innings. Lee became the first pitcher to pitch 10 innings in a game since Aaron Harang and Roy Halladay in 2007, the first pitcher to pitch 10 scoreless innings since Mark Mulder in 2005 and the first Phillies pitcher to pitch 10 innings since Terry Mulholland in 1993.

But Lee also became the first pitcher to pitch 10 scoreless innings in a losing effort since Brett Saberhagen’s Mets lost to San Diego in 1994.

“He battled,” Jim Thome said about Lee. “He battled.”

Thome sighed deeply before finishing his thought.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t help him out,” he said.

A few things on the night:

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Rollins Talks Thole Blunder

Jimmy Rollins could not believe his eyes.

In the top of the second inning in last night’s 5-2 loss to the Mets, R.A. Dickey executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Josh Thole to second base with one out. Phillies first baseman Jim Thome tagged Dickey about halfway up the first-base line and nonchalantly tossed the ball back to Cliff Lee, who believed like everybody else at Citizens Bank Park the play had ended.

In fact, Rollins motioned for Thole that he did not need to slide as he reached second base, which is something he has done since he reached the big leagues whenever there is no play at the base.

“Nice hit,” Thole told Rollins as he reached second, referring to Rollins’ first-inning double.

“Thanks,” Rollins replied.

Then Thole inexplicably turned around and walked back to first base.

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