Friday, July 3, 2015

Cliff Lee and a spike in long balls

Cliff Lee allowed two home runs Thursday. He allowed 26 home runs in 2012, his highest total since 2006. The one-season spike could be bad luck, or something else.

Cliff Lee and a spike in long balls

Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Cliff Lee was surprised to see Rich Dubee stroll toward the mound with two outs in the fourth inning Thursday.

"I felt strong," Lee said. "I felt like I could keep pitching."

But this is spring, there are pitch counts, and plenty of time exists later for longer outings. The two blemishes against Lee on this day were both solo home runs hit to right field in the same direction the wind was blowing.

Lee allowed 26 home runs in 2012, his highest total since 2006. The one-season spike could be bad luck, or something else.

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"That comes along with throwing a lot of strikes usually," Lee said. "And that's what I'm trying to do. Occasionally, they'll be swing mode and run into a pitch if I leave it over the plate. That's what happens. I just have to make sure I do a better job of keeping the ball down, especially if I sense they are in swing mode. Just stay out of the heart of the plate. If you do that and they hit a home run on a quality pitch, there is nothing you can do."

It is a delicate line, of course. Only Oakland's Bartolo Colon threw a higher percentage of his pitches for strikes than Lee. Lee has always been a strike-thrower and home runs had not totally burned him before. Is it possible he threw poorer quality strikes in 2012?

Opposing batters hit a higher percentage of fly balls off Lee and 11.8 percent of those fly balls landed as home runs. His previous home run-to-fly ball ratios were 9.0, 6.3, 6.5 and 5.1.

Lee is not about to change his pitching philosophy.

"I want them to swing as early as possible," Lee said. "That's usually a good thing. I have to make sure I'm not over the plate and up."

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