Before 2003, his first full season in the majors, Lee met Tim Maxey - as all the Cleveland Indians pitchers did at some point. Then the team's strength and conditioning coordinator, Maxey was in charge of developing a workout routine. Maxey had spent the previous two seasons introducing a form of interval training to the pitching staff.
He showed Lee the program, and the young pitcher began asking questions. Maxey knew he had him hooked.
"He wanted to learn why we were doing things," Maxey said. "We tried to explain. If you can't justify why you're doing something - exercises, drills, philosophies - then it's very difficult to get them to buy into the program."
Lee discovered something he liked. It worked well. Simple as that.
"I have a lot of faith in it," Lee said. "I've been doing the same thing for a long time."
Maxey, now the joint strength and conditioning coordinator for Major League Baseball and the players' union, is hardly shocked at this development. He recalls a 24-year-old Lee who devoted himself to the program. It offered consistency and control. What else could a young pitcher want?
Maxey described his program as a holistic approach to conditioning a pitcher. The goal is to not just simulate what happens on the field but to train the major muscle groups and energy systems involved in pitching.
There are moments of great activity, repeating a violent motion over and over again. Then, there is the stillness when the pitcher's team is at bat.
"We want to train our athletes to pitch those nine innings," Maxey said. "Cliff was expecting to have the energy capacity to perform those nine innings."
That requires a year-round commitment. The cornerstone, Maxey said, is the hip and leg program. Lunges worked best for Lee, so Maxey implemented them prominently.
Most important, there is less continuous running.
There is a savings in fatigue with the intermittent work, and, done right, Maxey said, that can be converted into an increase in intensity.
For a pitcher such as Lee, who has always made a conscious effort to stay in games as long as possible, stamina was imperative.
"In the end, it has to be beneficial to the athlete," Maxey said. "Over time, when you start feeling the results, and you feel as strong in the sixth, seventh, and eighth inning as you did in the first, second, or third inning, then they buy into the program."
That's what happened to Lee. The results, obviously, have been inarguable. Since 2005, Lee is just one of eight pitchers to have thrown at least 200 innings in five seasons.
Of course, Maxey is sure to note that Lee must do the pitching, and this is a results-driven business. But Lee decided long ago that Maxey's program puts him in the best possible position to succeed.
On the first day after a start, Lee will work close to three hours doing Maxey's interval training program - including a massage of his shoulder and back at the end.
"Basically," Lee said, "everything possible."
On the second day, the load is lighter, with a bullpen session included. The third day is even lighter than the previous one, and his fourth day is a game of catch and short sprints.
He does not watch video. He does not take notes on himself or his opponents. The only game-specific preparation will be a glance at the scouting report.
"Some guys want more information. That's great if it works for them," Lee said. "But for me, usually when I try to do that stuff, it complicates things, and I get away from keeping it simple and doing what I do. If I try to outsmart myself, it usually backfires.
"I prefer to just make a pitch, see how they react, and make an adjustment off that."
It's that control of the situation that sold him on his between-starts routine. That control defines Lee on and off the mound.
"I don't think I've got everything figured out," Lee said. "But I feel like my routine is pretty solid, and I rely on that whether you have a good game or a bad game. If you focus on your routine, those things will even out, and you'll play out to be who you are."
Contact staff writer Matt Gelb
at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb