April 18, 2014

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Lee, Westbrook seeking answers

CLEVELAND — Cliff Lee and Jake Westbrook have had it with the numbers. They need no illustrations, no quantitative facts to back up the obvious: Their recent performances have stunk.
“It’s hard to really explain why,” said Lee, reflecting on his pitching woes of late. “I’ve felt good, but things haven’t been going my way.”
They haven’t been going the way the Cleveland Indians had hoped, either. When the Indians entered the 2007 season, they counted on two primary strengths to guide them into postseason contention: a relentless, balanced lineup and a pitching staff of five horses, each capable of carrying 200 quality innings apiece.
The Indians have certainly received the run support. They rank fourth in the major leagues with 528 runs scored. But while Cleveland’s starting staff has tallied 6102/3 innings, the fourth-most in the major leagues behind the Chicago White Sox (6231/3), Arizona Diamondbacks (611) and Cincinnati Reds (611), two of its most reliable hurlers of recent years have mysteriously lost their touch.
Westbrook (1-6 overall, 6.20 ERA), a 29-year-old right-hander, hasn’t won a game in either the major or minor leagues since April 27. His current string of seven consecutive big league starts without a victory is the longest of his career.
More troubling is the ease in which men are getting on base: Westbrook’s allowed a staggering 45 baserunners in his last 24 innings.
Lee, a 28-year-old left-hander, has been equally erratic, posting his last win on June 19. He has lost two straight starts and six of his last nine decisions overall. His 5-6 record and 5.67 ERA through 14 starts stands in direct contrast to his previous norms, with three consecutive seasons of at least 14 wins.
When combined, the last seven starts of Lee and Westbrook have resulted in an 0-6 record, an 8.10 ERA and 55 hits in 40 innings.
Indians manager Eric Wedge says each pitcher’s circumstances are different. Still, the season has reached a point where promise has to meet performance.
“I don’t want to talk about seeing signs of coming out of it,” Wedge said Tuesday, before the Red Sox blanked the Indians 1-0. “I want to see them coming out of it. They just need to make it happen.”
Both pitchers have been plagued recently by first-inning meltdowns.
Westbook wasted little time Monday loading the bases with Red Sox, leading to a four-run inning. Although he navigated the ensuing five innings allowing just one more run, the damage was already done.
Similarly, Lee coughed up five runs in the first to the Texas Rangers on Saturday, his last start.
Pitchers walk a delicate line of tenths of an inch — the difference between a ball and a strike or a pitcher’s count versus a hitter’s count.
For brief stretches, Lee and Westbrook have lost their grasp of the strike zone — and paid dearly for it.
“It happens to everybody,” said Lee. “I know it won’t last. But when you’re forced into hitter’s counts, you have to throw the ball over the plate and that’s when you get into trouble.
“You’re talking about the best hitters in the world,” he added. “If you give them the advantage, they’re going to jump all over you. I’ve got to do a better job of staying out of those situations.”
During a pregame session with reporters on Tuesday, Wedge chafed when asked if there was any consideration as to pulling either pitcher from the rotation.
“There are no absolutes, obviously,” said Wedge. “But I have confidence that they’ll come out of it. They just have to work their way through this.”
The Indians have little choice but to remain patient, but even Westbrook is tired of rationalizing the numbers.
“There aren’t any excuses for me right now,” said Westbrook. “It’s time for getting the job done. I just have to figure it out.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or palpern@chroniclet.com.