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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2008

Lee stays in form as Indians win

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MINNEAPOLIS - Cliff Lee isn't sure if he feels like he did during the 2005 season, but he certainly looks like it.

"I feel like me. I feel like I'm pitching the way I know I can," he said.

Lee pitched two-hit ball for eight innings, Casey Blake homered and had three RBIs, and the Cleveland Indians beat Francisco Liriano and the Minnesota Twins 4-0 last night.

Lee was 18-5 with a 3.79 ERA in 2005, but has struggled since.

He shuffled among the disabled list, the minors and the Indians rotation last season, never finding his groove.

He's on track this season, winning his first three starts with an 0.40 ERA.

Lee (3-0) struck out eight and walked one.

"He's been about as consistent as you can ask a starting pitcher to be his last three starts," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Tonight he was no different. He's just doing a really good job with his fastball. Before he controlled it. Now he's commanding it."

Lee's performance overshadowed Liriano's second start in over 19 months after having Tommy John surgery following a dominant 2006 rookie campaign.

Liriano looked a little sharper than he did in his season debut Sunday in Kansas City, but the result was his second loss.

"Frankie was better than last time. He's still not commanding his fastball and the strike zone in general," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

"The arm's there, the velocity's there. He had some spurts where it really came out of his hand and it looked really good, but he was still missing the zone a little too much."

The lefty threw 88 pitches in five innings, giving up three runs and four hits.

He tied his career high of five walks set in his first outing, only this time he threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 23 batters he faced, compared with nine of 24 in his first start.

Liriano (0-2) lasted 42/3 innings and gave up four runs on six hits in his first start.

"I'm rushing too much with my fastball, trying to make a perfect pitch, and it's not working that way," he said. "I've just got to calm down and get better, hit my spots with the fastball."

Liriano walked Jason Michaels to load the bases in the second inning, then gave up a two-run single to Blake, scoring Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta. Garko has reached base in all 17 games this season.

Victor Martinez's RBI single in the fifth made it 3-0, and Blake led off the seventh with his first home run and appears to be heating up after a slow start.

"I feel like I am," he said. "It's still the early going here and this game is about making adjustments.

"It's about confidence and I'm starting to gain some confidence now."

The Twins have lost eight straight to Cleveland, their worst stretch against the Indians since losing nine straight from May 9, 1981, to Aug. 20, 1982.

Cleveland has won 15 of the last 20 meetings, outscoring Minnesota 100-49.

Only one Minnesota baserunner reached second off Lee, who gave up hits to Matt Tolbert and Joe Mauer.

Both baserunners were erased by double plays.

"We ran into a buzzsaw over there," Gardenhire said.

"Mr. Lee threw the ball very, very well and didn't give us much of a chance, locating in and out with his fastball, cutting it, good curve ball, good changeup. He had pretty much everything working."

Lee's fast start is helping make up for Cy Young Award winner C.C. Sabathia's miserable beginning.

Sabathia is 0-3 with a 13.50 ERA.

"Definitely the best start to a season I've ever had. It's still early, though," Lee said. "We still got a long ways to go, but I'm going to go out and try to continue to pitch the way I have."

Rafael Perez pitched the ninth for Cleveland, which shut out an opponent for the first time since Sept. 15, 2007, against Kansas City.

NOTES: Indians DH Travis Hafner missed the game to rest a sore right shoulder that has bothered him since spring training. "I don't think it's anything to be concerned about," Wedge said. ... Twins SP Kevin Slowey's injured biceps felt fine after a bullpen session. The right-hander will throw about 50 pitches for Class-A Fort Myers on Monday, the first of three planned rehab starts before being re-evaluated. ... More Twins injury updates: OF Michael Cuddyer's injured right finger felt fine after throwing on the side, but there's still no date for his return. SS Adam Everett, nursing a sore shoulder, took grounders but did not throw. He's day-to-day. Reliever Brian Bass was unavailable after tweaking his back in Thursday's loss to the Rays. He's also day-to-day. ... Blake has 14 home runs and 47 RBIs against his former team.



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