A year older, but same old Lee

Maikel Franco committed his second error in two days, something manager Ryne Sandberg noticed with disappointment.
Maikel Franco committed his second error in two days, something manager Ryne Sandberg noticed with disappointment. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 01, 2014

DUNEDIN, Fla. - The link between the two men goes back to 2009, when the Phillies pursued each one at the trade deadline in an effort to win a second straight World Series.

Toronto, in the eyes of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., wanted too much for Roy Halladay at that time. Cliff Lee, as it turned out, became quite the consolation prize in a lopsided deal with the Cleveland Indians.

Lee became an instant Philadelphia icon with a dominant postseason, and then in the next instant was gone, traded to Seattle the same day Amaro pulled the trigger on the deal for Halladay. Twelve months later, after Lee shockingly signed as a free agent with the Phillies, the two men were teammates and part of the best rotation in baseball.

And now, as the Phillies get ready for the 2014 season, only Lee remains. Halladay, after battling back from shoulder pain in consecutive seasons, retired during the offseason and has been relegated to occasional guest instructor at this year's spring training.

"That has been a little bit strange," Lee conceded a few days before his Grapefruit League debut Thursday against the Blue Jays. "It's just odd seeing some of the greats leaving the game. You have Halladay, Derek Jeter is about to retire, and Mariano [Rivera] retired last year. Those were the guys who dominated the game when I was coming up, and to see them going out is definitely strange. That's telling me that I'm getting old, I think."

Old perhaps, a touch of gray in his beard for sure, but far from done.

"I still feel good," Lee said. "Jeter said something the other day. He believes in the power of the mind, and I couldn't agree more. I think mind power can overcome a lot of things, and age is definitely one it can overcome."

Lee, 35, is coming off one of his best seasons - 14-8 and a 2.87 ERA - and will likely make his first opening-day start since 2009 when he was still with the Indians. Despite being a year older, Lee looked like the same pitcher he has been throughout most of his career in his spring debut Thursday against the Blue Jays.

He allowed a run on consecutive one-out doubles by Moises Sierra and Jose Bautista in the bottom of the first inning, but ended his brief outing by retiring three of the last five batters he faced, three by strikeout. The Phillies lost for a second straight day to the Blue Jays, 7-5.

"Obviously I'm trying to throw strikes," Lee said. "I made a couple mistakes. The first double for sure was a mistake. I tried to throw a backdoor cutter, and it ended up right down the middle. And then Bautista, I just missed on the pitch before and tried to throw the same pitch. It wasn't a bad one. It's just you get into a 2-2 count with him in that situation, and it's not where you want to be."

There has been some debate in the past about whether Lee throws too many strikes, especially when he is ahead in the count. New pitching coach Bob McClure sees that more of a solution for all pitchers than a problem for Lee.

"I'll tell you how I fall on that: If you pitch 220 innings, punch out 220 guys, and have a 2.30 ERA, there's not a whole lot of argument there," McClure said. "He always looks like he's on the attack. He works fast. He does what we tell pitchers all the time to get better at: pound the zone, work fast. I used to love watching him. . . . I loved the way he went about it. You're talking about maybe getting a beer after an hour and 50 minutes."

The one thing McClure and Lee have discussed is mixing in an occasional curveball, but Lee said he must first get a feel for his fastball, cutter, and change-up because those are the pitches that have made him a wealthy man with a 139-86 record and a career 3.51 ERA.

With Halladay retired, Lee still has two years and an option left on the deal he signed with the Phillies after the 2010 season. He will make $25 million this season.

Although Halladay was always considered the better of the two pitchers - even Lee anointed him the ace among aces in 2011 - it is Lee who has had the more productive career with the Phillies. Now, he's hoping to have another strong season for a contending team.

"You've got to be confident and expect to win," Lee said. "I feel like as a group we're thinking that way. There's no other option. So that's how we've got to see it."


Roy vs. Cliff

Roy Halladay's and Cliff Lee's careers became intertwined in 2009 when Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. pursued both of them at the trade deadline. Eventually they became teammates and remained so until Halladay retired in the offseason. Here's a look at their Phillies records:

REGULAR SEASON

Pitcher   G   W-L   IP   H   ER   ERA   WHIP

Roy Halladay    103    55-29    7022/3    649    254    3.25    1.119

Cliff Lee    105    44-29    746    677    237    2.86    1.058

POSTSEASON

Roy Halladay    5    3-2    38    23    10    2.37    0.737

Cliff Lee    7    4-1    461/3    35    12    2.33    0.928

- Bob Brookover


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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