Cliff Lee wasn’t in vintage form, but was still dominant. He pitched a complete game, allowing only 9 base runners. The Yankees managed 4 runs against the lefty (only 3 of them earned) but it wasn’t enough to offset the damage of Phil Hughes‘ bad night. Coming back from his skipped start Hughes allowed 7 runs (6 earned) in only 5.2 innings of work. He left the Yankees in a 7-1 hole that the team didn’t have enough to overcome.
Yankee fans knew it was going to be a rough night hitting against Cliff Lee. The guy’s unhittable. Coming into the game he led the A.L. in ERA with a 2.39 mark and all of baseball in WHIP with a 0.92. Most impressive, Lee had allowed only 4 walks and 3 homers in 86.2 innings of work.
Surprisingly, Lee actually gave the Yankees their chances. He didn’t have his best stuff in the game. He allowed two home runs to Nick Swisher (oh yeah!) and walked Jorge Posada. Those occurrences may seem pedestrian, but against Lee they’re exceedingly rare and serve as evidence that he wasn’t as dominant as he could have been.
Unfortunately, Phil Hughes was atrocious. He allowed one of baseball’s worst hitting teams to score runs in each inning he pitched except the first. Although he managed to give the Yankees length, and left after having thrown only 94 pitches through 5.2 innings, he struggled to get the third out the entire game, and was lit up in the 6th for 3 runs. Joe Girardi turned to Boone Logan and Chan Ho Park to stop the bleeding. They kept the Mariners from scoring for the remainder of the game, serving as evidence that it was Hughes who was off and not necessarily the Mariners who were on their game (unless you think Park and Logan are two of the Yankees better relievers).
The timing of Hughes’ meltdown was unfortunate. Phil was supposed to pitch Friday against the Dodgers but was intentionally skipped as part of his innings limit on the season, the first time the team had held its burgeoning star back to protect his arm. Naturally fans and the media are going to speculate as to whether or not the skipped start threw Hughes out of his rhythm. Only Phil will know for sure, but it warrants mentioning that at roughly this time last year Joba Chamberlain had an ERA of 3.81, not far off the 3.58 mark Hughes currently sports. Yankee fans will have to wait until Phil’s next start to know if this is a one-time event, or if the team’s focus on innings limits is the wrong way to protect its young pitchers.
As bad as Hughes was, the real story of the night was Lee. Even when he’s bad, he’s still really good. Two thing stood out about his performance. First, the dude just pounds the strike zone with all his pitches. If the worst to be expected from him is a single walk then it will be difficult for a team like the Yankees to drive up his pitch count. He won’t give hitters many favors and will give his team length in ball games. Second, he works unbelievably fast, just throwing pitch after pitch. This must throw batters off-balance, particularly since Lee has 4 legitimate pitches.
The net effect of Lee’s performance was that on a night when he wasn’t at his best (a walk, 2 homers, only 2 strike outs) he still threw only 115 pitches in a complete game. He looked in complete control. The only time he may have been vulnerable was in the 9th, when the game was all but won.
Felix Hernandez goes against Javier Vazquez in Wednesday’s game. King Felix hasn’t been as dominant this year as he was last year, but that’s not saying much. He still leads the A.L. in innings pitched with 112.2 and sports a nifty 125 ERA+. Vazquez, on the other hand, will be looking to bounce back from his rough outing against Arizona. If the Yankees aren’t careful they could easily lose this one too. In related news, small-market, injury riddled, eternal underdog Boston beat Tampa Bay, cutting the Yankees division lead to a single game.
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