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Cause for concern? Cliff Lee continues to struggle in Texas

Big League Stew

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When it comes to discussing Cliff Lee's(notes) struggles Friday morning, your conversation will likely include "rest" and "location."

Or at least those are the two keywords being mentioned most in the wake of the Texas Rangers asking Lee to complete a four-game sweep against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday and the ace responding by faltering again in a 6-4 loss. The lefty gave up five runs in five innings, and owns a ghastly 8.39 ERA (23 runs in 24 2/3 innings) over his last four starts.

Believe it or not, the Rangers have only won three of the 10 games that Lee has started since he was traded from Seattle on July 9. That's far from the conversion rate the Rangers were hoping for when they traded for the supposed rock of their rotation.

So what's the problem, Mr. Cliff Lee, sir?

Why have you been lending credence — however slight — to that bozo on the radio?

"I haven't been locating pitches as well as I expect myself to and they haven't missed them," Lee [told reporters after the game]. "It's just been a handful of pitches and they happened to capitalize on them. I've got to do a better job of staying out of the heart of the plate. That's really it."

Indeed, it seems like Lee isn't hitting the parts of the strike zone that he wants to, because walks have not been a problem over this recent stretch. He's walked only a total of three batters over these last four games and still owns that unreal K/BB ratio (156-12). He's also had some bad luck — particularly in his recent Tampa Bay start — as his 2.55 FIP indicates.

But because we haven't seen the Lee who is likely to command the biggest free-agent pitching contract this offseason, we're going to continue to search for an explanation.

The current explanation in Texas is that Lee needs more rest before the playoffs.

Writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News:

While the Rangers have talked about wanting to keep Lee on a routine, results suggest the occasional extra day makes him more, not less effective. He's 4-1 with a 2.19 ERA when getting at least five days of rest this season. He's now a much more pedestrian 6-7 with a 3.66 ERA on four or fewer days.

And if you consider Lee's season, it only makes sense that, if he was going to experience some fatigue, it would happen at this point. From the time he was activated on April 30 through Thursday, Lee has pitched 179.1 innings, the most in the majors by 11 innings.

Baseball Time in Arlington is skeptical of the more rest theory, but concedes that the Rangers' 8.5-game lead in the AL West makes a few extra off-days worth the risk.

Also, as Grant points out, Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA for the Phillies in last year's playoffs after going through a similar slump to end the regular season.

Since Lee will be chasing his first World Series ring and a huge contract, there should be no reason to worry about his motivation this fall.

Yes, there will be more cause for concern if Lee's August dog daze carries into September, but the thinking here is that he should be just fine. The only thing that Lee has lost in Texas so far is his hold on the AL Cy Young award.

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