For the first time this season, Cliff Lee has a chance to win three straight starts.
The left-hander looks to accomplish that feat Friday night when the Philadelphia Phillies open a home series against the Colorado Rockies.
Though Lee (4-7, 3.52 ERA) is mired in one of his most disappointing seasons in an otherwise successful 11-year career, he has allowed one run in 14 innings while winning two consecutive starts for the first time since a seven-game run July 30-Sept 5, 2011. He gave up five hits over seven scoreless innings of a 5-1 win at Atlanta on Saturday.
"It looks like he enjoyed pitching,'' manager Charlie Manuel said about Lee, who left that game for precautionary reasons after his left hamstring cramped. "He started feeling comfortable and feeling like he could pitch the way he wanted to.''
Lee has been pleased with the way he's thrown of late during an extremely frustrating season for him and the Phillies (66-71).
"What's done is done,'' Lee said. "We've been playing better, well-rounded baseball.''
Winners in nine of 13, the Phillies took two of three at NL Central-leading Cincinnati to conclude a 4-2 trip, and have won four of six versus Colorado (56-80) this year. Lee allowed three runs in six innings of a 6-2 loss at Coors Field on July 13 to fall to 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts, including the postseason, against the Rockies.
Facing Lee this time likely presents a more difficult challenge than normal for a Rockies club that is coming off two straight 1-0 losses at Atlanta - both via unearned runs. Colorado has never been shut out in three consecutive contests.
"It's very difficult to take,'' manager Jim Tracy said.
Rockies All-Star Carlos Gonzalez went 0 for 4 in the last two games but is 5 for 10 against Lee. Gonzalez is batting .422 in 22 regular season and playoff contests versus Philadelphia.
Scheduled Colorado starter Jeff Francis (5-4, 5.73) has allowed three runs on two homers in 10 innings while failing to earn a decision in each of his last two starts against the Phillies. The most recent came June 21 at Citizens Bank Park, when he gave up a first-inning home run to Jimmy Rollins and five other hits over five innings of a 4-1 victory.
Francis, however, was roughed up for six runs and 10 hits in 3 2-3 innings of an 11-10 win over San Diego on Sunday.
While Rollins is 7 for 17 versus Francis, teammate Chase Utley is 3 for 15 with six strikeouts against the left-hander.
Utley is 5 for 31 (.161) in his last seven games overall but hit a two-run homer in Philadelphia's 6-2 victory over the Reds on Wednesday.
"His power is still there," Manuel said of Utley, who is hitting .242 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 58 games since returning from a knee injury.
Seeing more time in place of injured star catcher Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia's Erik Kratz is 7 for 20 with two homers and seven RBIs in his last five games.