Only a matter of time before Lee finds old form

Updated: April 26, 2009

Tom Szczerbowski/US Presswire

Cliff Lee went 22-3 a season ago. He is just 1-3 at the start of this year.

ANSWER NOT FAR OFF FOR LEE

Cliff Lee is trying to get the magic he showed last season back this year. So far, he hasn't been the same pitcher he was last year, when he went 22-3 and won the AL Cy Young. This year, as he enters Monday's start against the Red Sox, he is 1-3 with a 5.25 ERA. He is looking for that old form, and in my opinion it won't be too long before he finds it.

Baseball is a game of inches, even more so for pitchers. Normally when you think about inches making a difference in a baseball game, you are thinking about a ball falling a few inches fair or foul or a ball just sneaking over a fielder's glove. But a few inches can be all the difference for a pitcher. Three inches too high, too low, inside or outside can be huge. Not only does a slight difference in the location of a pitch matter so much, but a difference of an inch or two on the movement can be the difference between an average pitcher and an elite pitcher. I think most fans would be surprised by how little separates the ability and performance of average and great big leaguers. Every big leaguer is an elite athlete to begin with, so the distinctions become a lot finer at baseball's highest level.

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Last year, Lee turned in a magical season mostly by making relatively small strides in his pitching. Because that difference can be so slight, it's also easy to slip back to just being average rather than dominant. This year he already has as many losses (three) as he did all of last season. In reality, though, replicating last year was going to be nearly impossible.

So I don't think Lee is lost for the year. Yes, he had a couple of horrible outings this season, but his most recent two games he seems to be getting back on track. His last game he went eight innings and gave up nine hits, but only allowed two runs against the Royals in a 2-0 loss The game before that, he went six innings, allowed one run and got the win.

The main difference between his 2007 season, when he spent time on the disabled list and pitched at Triple-A, and his Cy Young season in 2008 were his fastball location and his self-confidence. He had the belief in 2008 that he would not only compete at the big league level, but also dominate. He came right into spring training, hit the ground running with some strong outings early on and never looked back. Now he's coming off a season in which he was on a serious roll and he's slightly off this year, but it's not like he doesn't know how to do it now. He has resources to draw on. That gives me a lot of confidence that he'll find success again.

What I see in the outings so far in which he's had difficulty is a lack of self-confidence and conviction in the pitches he's throwing. Also, I see poor location at times. Those are things he can -- and will -- remedy. And it can happen with one good inning. All of a sudden, things will click. He'll be able to feel the balance, confidence and aggression he's been looking for. When it comes, he'll be elated. He'll start smiling and everything will start to fall into place. It's the "Aha" moment everyone occasionally experiences. Lee just needs his. The good thing for him is that since he's had them before, he'll be able to recognize it when it comes faster than someone who hasn't been to the top of the mountain before.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: April 23 | April 22 | April 21 | April 20 | April 19

WEB GEMS SCOREBOARD

Touch 'Em AllThis season, "Baseball Tonight" will be tracking Web Gems. We'll publish a leaderboard on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page each Monday. In addition to listing the leaders in appearances (both players and teams) on "Baseball Tonight," we'll offer up the leaders in Web Gem Points.

Web Gem Points will be calculated by awarding five points for the night's top defensive play, four points for second, three for third, two for fourth and one for fifth. Scoring will be based on the Web Gems from the last "Baseball Tonight" show to air on a given night.

Web Gem Points leaderboard
Brandon Inge 18
David Wright 15
Jermaine Dye 9
David Murphy 8
Orlando Cabrera 8
Michael Bourn 8

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (players -- 2009)
Brandon Inge Detroit Third base 6
David Wright New York Mets Third base 3
Carlos Pena Tampa Bay First base 2
Matt Kemp Los Angeles Dodgers Center field 3
10 players tied 2

Web Gem appearances leaderboard (teams -- 2009)
Tampa Bay 9
New York Mets 7
Detroit 6
Boston 6
Chicago White Sox 6

ON DECK: MONDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Marlins at Mets

The Marlins, after a blazing start to the season, have lost six in a row. Mets starter John Maine (0-2, 7.47 ERA) has given up 16 hits, 13 runs and nine walks in 15 2/3 innings this season.

Dodgers at Giants

Can Barry Zito string together two strong outings in a row? He is coming off seven shutout innings in a 1-0 win against the Padres. The Dodgers trail only the Cardinals in runs scored in the NL.

Yankees at Tigers

The Yankees and Tigers need Monday's starters to get on track if they planning on being relevant all season. The Tigers' Justin Verlander has given up six or more runs in three of his four starts this season. CC Sabathia has had two good starts and two bad starts so far with the Yankees.

For the rest of Monday's schedule, click here.

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BBTN ON THE AIR: MONDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Dave Winfield, Peter Gammons
12:30 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Dave Winfield, Peter Gammons

WEB GEMS

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Insider Who went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPPITCHER SITUATION
J. Flores, Was2NYMPerezTop 2: 2-2, 0 Outs. 1 on.
C. Davis, Tex5BalBergesenTop 2: 1-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
J. Bruce, Cin4AtlKawakamiBot 4: 1-0, 2 Outs. 1 on.
B. Inge, Det7KCPonsonTop 2: 1-1, 1 Outs. 1 on.
A. Kearns, Was3NYMPerezTop 5: 1-0, 1 Outs. None on.
J. Bruce, Cin5AtlKawakamiBot 5: 1-2, 2 Outs. 1 on.
D. Murphy, Tex1BalBergesenTop 5: 1-1, 0 Outs. None on.
H. Blalock, Tex5BalBergesenTop 5: 3-1, 0 Outs. 1 on.
Y. Molina, StL2ChCHardenBot 2: 3-1, 0 Outs. None on.
B. Roberts, Bal2TexMcCarthyBot 5: 2-1, 0 Outs. None on.

The complete list of Sunday's homers

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at the Phillies' weekend sweep of the Marlins.

Marlins
Inside The Series
Phillies sweep Marlins 3-0
Phillies
Runs 26 9
Runs after 7th 19 1
HR 4 3
Victorino/Maybin BA .333 .091
Victorino/Maybin RBI 8 0

SUNDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Jay Bruce• The Reds are excited about the young players now contributing. Jay Bruce's performance Sunday illustrates why the Reds are feeling good. Bruce went 3-for-3 with two homers, four RBIs and two runs scored.
Jered WeaverJered Weaver had the Mariners completely confused over his seven shutout innings. Weaver permitted only three hits and the bullpen tossed two scoreless innings behind him in an 8-0 win at home. Weaver has won his past two starts and lowered his ERA to 2.45.
WORST
Hayden Penn• When the Marlins were hot at the start of the year, the pitching was nearly unhittable. On Sunday, they were quite hittable in a 13-2 thrashing at the hands of the defending champion Phillies. Reliever Hayden Penn experienced the worst of it in Sunday's loss; he gave up four hits, three walks and seven runs in just one inning of work.
B.J. UptonB.J. Upton posted another 0-for-4 day in the Rays' 7-1 loss against the A's. It was his fourth consecutive 0-for-4 game and dropped his average for the season to .156. Before the 0-for-16 skid, Upton was hitting .241.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Pittsburgh's Jeff Karstens and Milwaukee's Braden Looper will face each other Monday in Milwaukee in a matchup of right-handers that have been pleasant surprises this season.

Looper has allowed only four earned runs in 17 innings this season and has been the best starter on a Milwaukee team trying to replace CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets. Karstens, who went 2-6 in nine starts with Pittsburgh last season, is trying to establish himself as a starter. Karstens' off-speed stuff has been tough to hit and he has handled lefties very well. Looper has been able to induce misses and get outs despite falling behind in the count.

Karstens vs. Looper (2009)
Karstens Looper
Record 1-0 2-0
ERA 3.60 2.12
Swing-and-miss pct. 11.4 20.0
BA against (behind in count) .286 .091
BA against curve/slider/change .136 .304
BA against lefties .133 .281

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF MONDAY'S GAMES

Adam Morrison examines the 14 games on Monday's slate.

Fantasy Morrison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Monday. Daily Notes