CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians have tried to be patient and nurture their bewildered former star.
But now the coddling might be over and difficult questions have to be asked. First and foremost is what has happened to Cliff Lee?
A pitcher once believed to be a vital cog to a championship contender continues to mystify and might now be in danger of losing his place in the starting rotation. Lee lasted just four innings, allowing eight runs and nine hits, as the Red Sox tattered the Indians’ pitching staff with a 14-9 defeat Thursday night at Jacobs Field.
“When you talk about a starting pitcher, you’re asking him to give you a chance to win a ballgame,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “We know (Lee is) trying. He’s trying to do everything he can to get back on track. Tonight, it didn’t work.”
Wedge said the coaching staff and team officials would huddle over the next day to discuss what, if any, changes might come in the pitching rotation.
“I haven’t had time to think about it or talk about it, but I’m sure we’re going to discuss things,” said Wedge.
The Indians have now lost three of their last four games and four of their last six. Somehow, they haven’t lost any ground on the sputtering Detroit Tigers, who still retain a game-and-a-half lead in the Central Division standings, despite dropping three of its last four games to the Chicago White Sox.
Lee, a 28-year-old left-hander, has not won a game since June 19. He has lost three straight starts and seven of his last 10 decisions overall. His 5-8 record and 6.38 ERA have become a virtual albatross for an otherwise reliable rotation.
“I have got to pitch better than I have been, period,” said Lee, who has posted three consecutive seasons of at least 14 wins. “Part of it is my pitch selection, part of it is my location. I’m trying to get better. The results just haven’t been there.”
For the third time this season, Lee failed to make it out of the fifth inning and put his time into an insurmountable hole early.
Unlike Lee’s previous stint against the Texas Rangers, in which he was tagged for five runs early and settled down late, Lee never found his footing. The Red Sox possess one of the most productive run-producing lineups in the game and feasted on his early bouts with wildness.
Lee walked the first two batters of the third inning, both of which were later scored on a two-run single from Jason Varitek.
An inning later, Manny Ramirez — who continues to torment Tribe pitching — laced a two-run double, scoring Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz.
By the time Ramirez and Kevin Youkilis crossed home plate on Mike Lowell’s two-run single, five runs had already score and Indians manager Eric Wedge was already hastily walking toward the mound for the quick hook.
Lee would skulk back to the dugout to a cascade of boos, tipping his cap to the crowd in mock recognition.
“I wasn’t trying to show anybody off,” said Lee.
The Red Sox built a 9-1 cushion and the heavy contingent of Boston fans on hand weren’t exactly subtle in asserting their presence.
Of course, the Indians were fortunate in that Red Sox rookie southpaw Kevin Gabbard was equally erratic, lasting only 4 2/3 innings before Boston turned to its vaunted bullpen.
The Indians closed the gap to 12-9 on a three-run blast by Ryan Garko in the seventh inning off former Tribe reliever Julian Tavarez. But Boston added three runs in the seventh and two in the eighth to secure the win.
Travis Hafner snapped out of an 0-for-21 hole with a two-out single in the seventh inning.
Ramirez continued his assault on his former digs by hitting a mammoth solo shot in the second inning over the centerfield plastic trees — a distance of 481 feet, the third-longest in Jacobs Field history, trailing only Jim Thome (511 feet in 1999) and Mark McGuire (485 feet in 1997).
Then, for good measure, he launched another shot 412 feet to straightaway center field in the top of the eighth, just beyond the grasp of Grady Sizemore to score to more two runs.
It was the final gash on a Cleveland pitching staff littered with bullets.
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Minnesota
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Byrd (8-4, 4.43 ERA) vs. Bonser (5-6, 4.53)
TV/RADIO: STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM