7/22/2014 1:25 A.M. ET
Numbers indicate Lee can still be effective
Velocity, movement not far off from where they were before injury
By Tim Healey / MLB.com
Cliff Lee returned to the mound for the Phillies on Monday, just in time for the club to showcase him to potential suitors with the non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching. He was not sharp.
The left-hander, who battled a strained left elbow since mid-May, struggled with command throughout, lasting only 5 2/3 innings in an eventual 7-4 loss to the Giants. San Francisco touched Lee for six runs on 12 hits and a walk. Ten of the 12 hits were singles.
The ineffectiveness might best be chalked up to rust or a lack of execution, and with one start to go before the July 31 Deadline -- Saturday night against the D-backs, if the Phillies rotation keeps the same order -- there is time for Lee to shake off whatever plagued him Monday. Some of the underlying numbers suggest he isn't necessarily that far off.
Lee's most common pitch, his two-seamer, was again that on Monday. Before Lee got hurt, it averaged 89.8 mph according to FanGraphs -- already a slight decrease over its velocity from past years -- and on Monday it was sitting 89-90. During the sixth inning, however, only two of nine fastballs reached 90. This could have been due to Lee's climbing pitch count. After all, he had not seen a Major League game or this type of workload in more than two months.
Lee's changeup featured about the same movement as it typically does, and he threw it at about the same rate he did in April and May, when opposing batters hit .146 when it was the final pitch of the at-bat. Likewise, Lee used his cutter no more than he did pre-injury.
While Lee threw 65.6 percent of his pitches for strikes (59 of 90), right in line with his season and career averages, he struggled more when it came to starting batters off. Lee managed first-pitch strikes to just under half of the Giants he faced (13 of 28), whereas he typically finds the zone with his first pitch two-thirds of the time.
The Giants made him pay for it. In the three innings San Francisco scored, Lee issued first-pitch strikes to just seven of 16 batters. Additionally, and anecdotally, Lee fell behind 1-0 before a fastball down the pipe resulted in Adam Duvall's two-run homer, as well as before Hunter Pence's RBI single to left ended Lee's night.
It's also worth considering Lee's final line. It's easy to look at six earned in 5 2/3 and think he was terribly off. But if, say, his pitch count was a bit higher and he never came out for the sixth, he would have finished with three earned in five innings -- not particularly good, but respectable for a first effort in two months.
Tim Healey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.