CLEVELAND — The Indians are driving toward their first playoff berth in six years, but Cliff Lee’s season remains stuck in neutral.
So far this season, the left-hander has lost his spot in the starting rotation, been demoted to Triple-A Buffalo, remained in the minors until Sept. 1, then pitched just twice out of the bullpen since being called up two weeks ago.
“I’m definitely not happy with how things went this year,’’ Lee said Saturday. “You’ve just got to deal with it and deal with what the organization wants you to do.
“Whatever I’ve got to do in order to (turn things around), I’m willing to.’’
Lee has a 5-8 record with a 6.53 ERA in 18 games with the Indians this year. In his two relief appearances since returing to the big leagues when rosters were expanded, he has allowed one earned run.
Those numbers are a far cry from Lee’s five previous big league seasons, when he went 49-28 with a 4.39 ERA and had the 12th-best career winning percentage(.636).
“We’re going to make sure Cliff does what he needs to this winter to come back strong,’’ Tribe manager Eric Wedge said. “With the talent and ability he has, the competitor he is and the resources he has here with the Indians, I think (all of his problems) are fixable.’’
Lee agreed with Wedge, adding that the organization has not talked to him about pitching winter ball in order to stretch out his arm for next spring. The 29-year-old is signed for two more seasons and is expected to be back in the hunt for a starting job in 2008.
“Obviously, I want to start, but I’m trying to make the best of the situation now,’’ Lee said. “It is different trying to learn how to work out of the bullpen, but I understand I have to improve. My only goal is to get back to pitching the way I did before.’’
Jeremy Sowers will remain in Akron with the Double-A Aeros for the remainder of the Eastern League Championship Series, but remains on track to start for the Indians on Sept. 26 in Seattle.
“He’s worked hard and done a good job for them,’’ Wedge said. “We’ve seen strong improvement from Jeremy, without a doubt.’’
The young lefty tossed six shutout innings Friday as Akron beat Trenton 8-2 in Game 3 of the best-of-five matchup. The Thunder held a 2-1 advantage going into Saturday night’s game at Canal Park.
Sowers has been superb for the Aeros in the playoffs, going 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA. He was 1-6 with a 6.93 ERA in 12 starts for the Tribe earlier this year.
“He may not pitch again before the 26th (in a doubleheader against the Mariners),’’ Wedge said. “But we’ll see.’’
Grover is not over
Former Indians manager Mike Hargrove, who resigned as Seattle’s manager on July 1, has agreed to take over a semi-pro summer league team in Kansas. Both Hargrove and his son Andy played for the Liberal BeeJays during their college years, making the decision to manage the club a natural one.
“He can do whatever he wants to do,’’ Wedge said. “He’s had a great career.’’
Hargrove’s career record is 1,188-1,173 with five playoff appearances.
Line them up
The pitching matchups are set for the Indians’ upcoming series with the Tigers at Jacobs Field.
Cleveland will send Paul Byrd (Monday), Jake Westbrook (Tuesday) and C.C. Sabathia (Wednesday) against Detroit’s Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander and Nate Robertson, respectively. The Tribe entered Saturday with a 5½-game lead over the Tigers in the American League Central Division standings.
By posting their 86th victory of the season Friday, the Indians now have their best record through 147 games in eight years. They pulled one win ahead of their 2005 pace with the walk-off triumph.
• All kids 14-and-under attending today’s 1:05 p.m. game will receive a SpongeBob SquarePants Bobsterz baseball toy.
• WKYC-TV 3 is televising today’s game, forcing it to join NBC’s coverage of the PGA Tour Championship in progress.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.