Cliff Lee(notes) cruised through his first five NL starts after the Philadelphia Phillies acquired him before the trading deadline. Then the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner ran into the Atlanta Braves.
Lee has seemed to finally recover from that rough outing near the end of last month and will try to help the Phillies move a step closer to their third straight NL East title Sunday against the Braves.
However, he’ll face a red-hot Atlanta team that will start one of the majors’ top rookies in the finale of a three-game series.
Lee (7-2, 2.67 ERA) then posted a 0.68 ERA while winning five straight outings, but the Braves ended that run and an eight-start win streak that stretched across both leagues on Aug. 29.
Atlanta (79-69) tagged the left-hander for six runs and 10 hits in five innings in a 9-1 loss in Philadelphia, and Lee followed by giving up 11 runs while splitting his next two outings.
He recorded his first shutout in a Phillies uniform Tuesday at home against Washington, pitching a six-hitter and striking out nine in a 5-0 victory.
“Every time I’m on the mound, I want to be the last guy out there,” Lee said. “I feel strong and good and hopefully I continue to feel that way.
“My past few outings I got a little fastball happy. Tonight, I tried to be more conscious of mixing speeds and it worked. That’s the name of the game. You have to be as unpredictable as possible.”
Lee won his only start at Turner Field with the Indians on June 16, 2004, but the Braves will send out Tommy Hanson(notes) (10-3, 2.65), who is tied for the majors’ longest active scoreless streak (17 innings) with San Diego reliever Luke Gregerson(notes).
Hanson allowed three hits and struck out eight over seven innings in Tuesday’s 6-0 win against visiting New York, his first victory since Aug. 22.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way everything has gone,” Hanson told the Braves’ official Web site. “I’ve already learned a lot, and I still have a lot to learn. So hopefully, I’ll just keep going at this pace and everything will be good.”
The right-hander lost his only start against the Phillies on Aug. 28 despite throwing only two innings in a rain-shortened outing. He allowed one run and two hits while striking out four.
While the Braves are 7 1/2 games behind Philadelphia in the East, they remain 4 1/2 back of Colorado in the wild-card race after Saturday night’s 6-4 win.
Matt Diaz(notes) hit a two-run homer and Adam LaRoche(notes) drove in two runs as Atlanta won for the ninth time in 11 games. Diaz has batted .500 with five homers and 12 RBIs against the Phillies this season.
Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard(notes) hit his third home run in the series Saturday and has seven of his 41 homers this year against the Braves, the most against one opponent. He has also homered more times versus Atlanta than any other club with 32 in 83 meetings.
After losing 14 of 18 last year to the Phillies, the Braves lead this year’s season series 10-7 heading into the final matchup and are 5-3 at home.