Phillies' Lee rocked in return

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cliff Lee was tagged by the Giants for 12 hits and six runs in 5 innings.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Cliff Lee was tagged by the Giants for 12 hits and six runs in 5 innings.
Posted: July 22, 2014

NINE DAYS ago, the Phillies announced that Cliff Lee's first start in more than 2 months would come on the first Monday of the season's second half.

It was conveniently scheduled to take place at Citizens Bank Park, once the cozy ballpark regularly advertising a sellout streak, but now the home of a team in the middle of the pack in major league attendance. The more than a week's notice gave every fan a chance to score a ticket - and every team interested in Lee's services via trade ample time to give their top scouts advance notice, to make sure they could get their flights and hotels booked.

It's fair to say everyone involved was let down.

Lee looked less than sharp, allowing a career-high-tying 12 hits as the Phillies fell to the San Francisco Giants, 7-4.

"Rusty," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Just looking at the swings, the results, you don't see balls getting squared up that often off of him when he's on the corners."

"Hopefully," Lee said, "next time I can do a better job and give my team a chance to win."

The Phillies have lost five of their last six games since reeling off a five-game winning streak in the last week before the All-Star break. But, in the coming weeks, the team's winning and losing are secondary to the big-picture moves general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is (or isn't?) able to make before the July 31 trade deadline, and after that, the Aug. 31 waiver deadline.

In a perfect world, Lee would be the kind of pitcher who could bring in a sizable haul in a deadline deal. Of course, little has gone perfectly for the Phillies in 2014.

In his first start since landing on the disabled list with a left elbow strain on May 20, Lee was charged with six runs on 12 hits in 5 2/3 innings. He may have been healthy, but Lee certainly did not look strong, sharp, or appealing to the scouts from more than a half-dozen teams that came to watch him (or his teammates).

Armed with a one-run lead after five innings, Lee gave up a two-run home run to rookie Adam Duvall in the sixth. Lee was pulled from the game four batters later and the Phillies never regained the lead.

Lee teased the 27,334 fans who paid their way in - and the scouts, too - by setting the Giants down in order on just nine pitches in his first major league inning since May 18. But reality then set in in the second inning and beyond.

Lee allowed the first batter to reach base in four of his last five innings. That baserunner scored three times.

In a span from the second inning into the fourth, Lee allowed hits to eight of 16 hitters. The Giants scored three times.

Lee, normally a marksman with his strike-throwing ability, was more than a little off his game.

"I think I spiked four fastballs in the first inning - I don't know if I've ever done that," Lee said.

Lee, who led all of baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio in each of the last two seasons, walked only one batter. But he threw a first-pitch strike to just 13 of the 28 batters he faced.

Lee worked behind often and the Giants made him pay routinely.

"I just wasn't locating as well as I like," Lee said. "Hopefully I can iron that out between now and my next start. There were spurts of it, but I definitely need to be more consistent. But it's not that crazy considering it's the first time I've been back on the mound in a while."

In the third inning, after Jimmy Rollins had erased a 1-0 deficit with a two-run single, Lee gave the lead up when he fell behind in the count twice to Buster Posey before watching the former NL MVP rip a two-out, two-run single to left.

Lee managed to skate through trouble in the fourth, leaving the bases loaded and the Phillies' 3-2 deficit intact. The Phils rewarded the pitcher in the next half-inning, when each of the first three batters reached before Ryan Howard hit an excuse-me, two-run, go-ahead single to left.

But again, Lee surrendered the lead.

After giving up a single to Michael Morse to begin the sixth, Lee fell behind Duvall and then left a fat, 89-mph fastball over the heart of the plate. Duvall responded by ripping his second home run in his sixth big-league game to put San Francisco back in front.

Lee would stick around long enough to allow two more hits: a double to pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias and a run-scoring single to former teammate Hunter Pence, who finished the night with three hits. But the damage was already done and the scouting reports were already filed.

"He felt good out there," Sandberg said. "When I went out to get him, he still felt like he had something left in there. He felt good, but I think for the first time in 2 months, there was some rust."

Unless he looks more like the pitcher who had a 3.18 ERA in his first 10 starts, and unless he clears waivers or is claimed by a team eager to work out a deal next month, Lee is likely to finish the season where he started it, in Philadelphia.

Lee, who turns 36 next month, is owed approximately $65 million over the next 2 1/2 years. He signed with the Phillies for a chance to add a World Series ring to his resume, and even if that looks unlikely, Lee seems uninterested in whether he stays or goes in the coming months.

"It's not my job to make trades and acquire players . . . our jobs as players is to try to compete and win," Lee said. "It's really that simple. I'm not going to get caught up in trades and all the speculation. I'm a Phillie and I want this team to win and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen. That's really it."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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