Cliff Lee makes his first spring training start this afternoon in Clearwater against the Tigers, who the Phillies tied 5-5 on Sunday. If the first two games were any sign, Lee will get two innings like Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.
Phillies vs. Tigers -- TCN, 1:05 p.m.
Hamels and Halladay combined to allow one run and two baserunners in four impressive innings over the weekend. Now it's Lee's turn to shake off the winter rust and finally turn the page on an incredibly unlucky 2012 season.
Lee received 3.2 runs of support per game last season, the fourth-fewest in all of baseball to Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Jeff Samardzija. He won six games despite registering the second-best K/BB ratio of his career and leading the majors in pretty much every category pertaining to control: walk percentage (3.3%), first-pitch strikes (71.6%, only pitcher over 70%), balls thrown (915 in 3,099 pitches, or 29.5%).
That balls thrown stat is insane. Lee threw 915 and Ross Detwiler was next on the list at 917. But Lee threw 558 more pitches than Detwiler. Among pitchers who threw 3,000 pitches last season, only Lee and Jordan Zimmermann threw fewer than 1,000 balls. (And Zimmermann was at 996, so he barely qualifies.)
Lee has a fun (translation: not fun) defensive alignment behind him. Have a look at the lineup:
1) Yuniesky Betancourt, SS
2) Chase Utley, 2B
3) Michael Young, 3B
4) Ryan Howard, 1B
5) Darin Ruf, LF
6) Carlos Ruiz, DH
7) John Mayberry, RF
8) Erik Kratz, C
9) Michael Martinez, CF
Ben Revere needs days off and these games obviously don't matter, but what more the Phillies can possibly learn about Martinez is beyond anyone's comprehension.
The interesting part of this lineup (vs. LHP Drew Smyly) is Utley batting second. I explain it in further detail here, but suffice it say Utley belongs in the two-hole. He has great career numbers with no outs and a man on first, second or third, and with one out and nobody on. Those are the types of situations he'd face batting second, a spot that best suits a high-OBP run producer like Utley.
It also splits up he and Ryan Howard and creates situations where your best hitter is batting directly behind either Jimmy Rollins or Revere. Though if Michael Young bats third, there will also be at least a half-dozen first-inning GIDPs with no outs and runners on first and third.
A top-four of Revere-Utley-Rollins-Howard would make a lot of sense. Rollins led off an inning 271 times last season. Utley, predominantly batting third, averages 92 such situations per season. That's a 3-to-1 difference that would have Jimmy leading off less and batting with men on more. Also gives you a ton of speed at the top.