Commentary

Yanks not preaching patience vs. Lee

Rangers ace has pinpoint control, meaning Bombers will look to come out swinging

Updated: October 18, 2010, 9:55 AM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The Yankees pride themselves on taking a patient approach at the plate.

But that strategy may change on Monday night when they face Rangers ace Cliff Lee in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

[+] EnlargeCliff Lee
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireCliff Lee doesn't fall behind hitters, which means the usually patient Yankees may have to attack early.

"I don't think there's an exact science [to] how you approach Cliff Lee, but to me, he's a lot like Roy Halladay," manager Joe Girardi said Sunday afternoon. "If you try to take a couple pitches and get deep in the count, you might be 0-2. So for me with Cliff Lee, I think you have to be ready to hit from pitch one. And if he makes a mistake, don't miss it."

That sentiment was echoed throughout the Yankees' clubhouse on Monday as the team worked out to prepare for a crucial Game 3 showdown against Lee and the Rangers.

With the ALCS tied 1-1, a lights-out performance by Lee on Monday night could put the Yankees in a 2-1 hole with the erratic and enigmatic A.J. Burnett scheduled to start Game 4 on Tuesday.

Derek Jeter acknowledged the obvious when he said Lee "is pitching as good as anyone in baseball right now."

Lee has allowed just two earned runs in 16 innings in two postseason starts, including a complete-game win over the Rays in Game 5 of the ALDS.

Among pitchers with at least 20 regular-season starts, Lee led the majors in strikeout-to-walk ratio with a mark of 10.28. Halladay was second with a 7.30.

Lee also threw strikes on 71 percent of his pitches, the top mark among pitchers making at least 20 starts.

"He pounds the strike zone. He doesn't walk too many people," Jeter said. "So you always hear people say 'try to be patient.' But with him you can't be too patient because if you fall behind you are in trouble."

Lee has mostly dominated the Yankees this season, going 2-0 with a 3.09 ERA in three starts in 2010. But the Bombers got to Lee for four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in his Aug. 11 start in Texas, a game the Yankees eventually won, 7-6, despite striking out 11 times against Lee.

"He's a great pitcher, don't get me wrong," Nick Swisher said. "But we feel like we have a pretty good lineup over here."

Lee, who also beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, will be a free agent this offseason. It's widely assumed the Yankees will make a strong push to sign Lee, whom they almost landed in a trade with the Mariners in July.

But no one in the Yankees' dugout is concerned over what could have been in July and what may happen this offseason. The Yankees say they're focused solely on beating Lee on Monday night.

"We've faced a lot of pitchers throughout the years that have had great reputations," Jeter said. "Reputation doesn't win games. You still have to go out there and pitch. [Lee] has been able to do that."

Lee will start Game 3 on five days' rest after throwing a complete-game gem in Game 5 of the ALDS. He threw five games on five days' rest in the regular season, going 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA.

Lee's regular-season statistics indicate the Bombers would do well attacking Lee early in at-bats. Batters are hitting just .223 off him after falling behind 0-1. But that's not an approach the Yankees normally take at the plate.

Brett Gardner led the American League with an average of 4.61 pitches per at-bat in the regular season. Curtis Granderson was eighth with 4.12. Will that patient strategy work against Lee or will the Yankees come out swinging? Gardner didn't want to reveal his plans.

"I'm not sure," he said. "We'll find out tomorrow night."

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

Ian Begley

ESPN New York Writer

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