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Published: Wednesday, 5/14/2008

How much lower can Lee's ERA go?

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Cleveland starter Cliff Lee is 6-0 with an 0.67 ERA. He has struck out 44 and walked 4. Cleveland starter Cliff Lee is 6-0 with an 0.67 ERA. He has struck out 44 and walked 4.
BILL KOSTROUN / AP Enlarge

CLEVELAND - There are so many ways and statistics available to describe the kind of success Indians pitcher Cliff Lee is enjoying this season.

How about this one: Lee has logged 532/3 innings so far, and has only allowed runs in three of them.

Or these:

•He is 6-0 with a best-in-baseball, microscopic, borderline-absurd 0.67 ERA. He's struck out 44 compared to four walks.

•He hasn't allowed a run in 16 innings this month, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two pitchers since 1948 had a lower ERA through their first seven starts.

Lee knows he's in a groove right now, but he says he's not focusing on his eye-popping statistics. He just knows he's never had a run like this, not even in high school.

"No way," Lee said. "I walked way too many guys back then to do this."

Lee, 29, pitched so poorly last year that he was optioned to Triple-A Buffalo on July 27. Though he returned to the Indians as a reliever in September, he was not on the team's postseason roster and finished the season 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA.

A strained right abdominal muscle caused Lee to miss all of spring training last year, and he said he never got on track. Yesterday he said simply being able to pitch this spring has made a big difference.

But the left-hander also said he's throwing his pitches for more "quality strikes," meaning he's putting them in spots that are harder to hit.

He also has a downward angle to his pitches that is difficult to track.

In baseball lingo, it's called "throwing downhill."

"When you don't throw 100 mph, it helps to get some angle on it," Lee said. "That's just mechan-

ics. I've seen it get hit pretty hard, too."

Lee tossed nine more scoreless innings Monday night in the Indians' 3-0 loss in 10 innings to Toronto. He might have had his current streak snapped had it not been for second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera's unassisted triple play in the fifth inning.

"It was impressive," Lee said of Cabrera's play. "That might be the only time I ever see that happen, and it happened while I was pitching."

MORE TRIPLE PLAY: Cabrera made the 14th unassisted triple play in major league history.

His back-up this year, Jamey Carroll, was playing second base for the Colorado Rockies last year when Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki made the 13th unassisted triple play on April 29 against Atlanta.

"Troy's was a little more mass chaos," Carroll remembered. "He just started tagging everybody."

Cabrera dove to catch Lyle Overbay's line drive, stepped on second base to retire Kevin Mench, who broke for third, and tagged Marco Scutaro, who went from first to second base.

Indians manager Eric Wedge said yesterday he was with the Boston Red Sox when shortstop John Valentine made major league baseball's 10th unassisted triple play on July 8, 1994, at Fenway Park.

GETTING HEALTHY: Cleveland starting pitcher Jake Westbrook (left intercostal strain) threw four innings of a simulated game yesterday and reported no pain.

He is scheduled to make a rehab start for Single-A Lake County Saturday.

Westbrook, placed on the disabled list retroactive to April 20, is 1-2 with a 2.73 ERA. His replacement, Aaron Laffey, pitches tomorrow and is 1-2 with a 1.83 ERA.

LEST WE FORGET: The two pitchers in the last 60 years with a better ERA than Lee through seven starts were Fernando Valenzuela (0.29 ERA in 1981) and Mike Norris (0.45 ERA in 1980).



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