Cliff Lee appears to be finding some consistency after a difficult start to 2007.
Lee (4-4, 5.46 ERA) is coming off one of his best starts of the season last Monday, allowing one run and five hits with five strikeouts in seven innings of a 10-1 win over Philadelphia. He has yielded four runs in 12 total innings over his last two starts.
“I didn’t do my job there for a while,” Lee said. “But now I’m starting to get where I want to be. Hopefully, I can carry this over and keep it rolling.”
Lee struggled in his first eight starts of 2007 after he missed all of April with a strained right abdominal muscle, going 2-4 with a 6.11 ERA. He has not won three consecutive starts since matching his career high of four in a row from June 15-July 1, 2006.
“He was frustrated after the games,” Indians third baseman Casey Blake said. “I told him, ‘You’re thinking about it too much.’ He’s now pitching like we’ve seen him before.”
His early problems included a shaky outing at Oakland on May 13, as he surrendered four runs and seven hits before exiting after five-plus innings with a three-run lead. The bullpen proceeded to squandered the advantage and Fernando Cabrera gave up a three-run, walk-off home run to Jack Cust in the bottom of the ninth as the Indians lost 10-7.
Lee has been dominant in three starts against the A’s (39-35) at Jacobs Field, going 2-0 with an 0.47 ERA. However, he has not faced them at home since May 27, 2005.
Cleveland (43-31) is seeking to rebound from dropping two of three games over the weekend at Washington, including a 3-1 loss on Sunday. The Indians have lost 12 of 21 games to fall out of first place in the AL Central.
Oakland (39-35) will counter Lee again with Chad Gaudin (6-2, 3.05), who is looking to help the Athletics avoid its first four-game skid since losing seven in a row from May 20-26, 2006.
The right-hander’s streak of five consecutive victories came to an end Tuesday when he allowed four runs - all in the second and third innings - and seven hits in 6 2-3 innings of a 5-2 loss to Cincinnati. Prior to the loss, Gaudin was unbeaten in nine outings, going 5-0 with a 3.02 ERA.
“Once again, I got myself in trouble early,” Gaudin said. “I couldn’t do too much, didn’t have too much room for error.”
He had a similar performance in his last start against Cleveland opposite Lee on May 13, surrendering five runs - all in the second and third innings - and eight hits over 4 2-3 innings.
The A’s were swept in a three-game set for the first time this season as they lost 10-2 to the New York Mets on Sunday. They batted just .192 in the series, were outscored 20-3 and were 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
“It was kind of really the first series where we just got beat,” Athletics manager Bob Geren said. “There were other series where we lost a game or something, but we were in the game. In this series, we weren’t.”
Cust, who hit a solo home run Sunday, went 5-for-11 with three homers and nine RBIs as Oakland won two of three from Cleveland May 11-13. He will likely be back in the designated hitter role Monday after being used in right field in the interleague game versus New York.
The A’s have lost 13 of their last 18 games at Jacobs Field.