Lee struggles in Miami, remains winless

Lee struggles in Miami, remains winless

Lee struggles in Miami, remains winless
MIAMI -- Something isn't right.

Cliff Lee has not resembled the ace the Phillies famously signed to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010, while the Phillies have been a shell of the team that won a franchise-record 102 games last season.

Feels like a bad dream, huh?

"I think for the whole team, it kind of has been," Lee said following Friday's 6-2 loss to Miami at Marlins Park. "We've been in last place from the start till now, so I don't think anyone is really happy with how things have gone as a group. Definitely, for me individually and as a team, I don't think anyone is really happy with how it's gone."

Lee allowed six runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Marlins. He has allowed five or more earned runs in three consecutive starts, carrying an 8.64 ERA in that span. He has a 5.68 ERA in his last eight starts, blowing two three-run leads, one two-run lead and one one-run lead. He is 0-5 with a 4.13 ERA for the season, and the Phillies are 3-10 when he starts, helping them fall to 36-43 and 10 games behind the first-place Nationals in the National League East.

It is the first time the Phillies have been seven games under .500 since April 20, 2007. It is the first time they have been 10 games out of first place since they finished 12 back to finish the 2006 season.

Is Lee healthy?

"Physically, I feel fine," he said.

Could he be tipping pitches?

"I don't know," he said.

Is the losing getting to him, affecting him mentally?

"No," Lee said.

Is the losing getting harder to take, at least?

"It's more frustrating when I don't pitch well, obviously," the lefty said. "As far as the wins and losses, that's out of my control. I could do something about not getting through the fifth inning and not giving up [six] runs. That falls solely on me. I can do better than that, no doubt."

Maybe it's just a bad stretch for Lee. He had three consecutive starts of five or more earned runs (9.33 ERA) with the Rangers in August 2010. He had a career-high four consecutive starts with five or more earned runs (11.70 ERA) with the Cleveland Indians in July 2007.

The Indians optioned Lee to Triple-A Buffalo following that fourth start. That obviously won't happen here, but it is shocking to see Lee, who is earning a team-high $21.5 million in 2012, go this deep into a season without a win. He had a 1.95 ERA through his first five starts of the season, but went winless because of poor run support. But the majority of his struggles lately have fallen squarely on his left arm.

"I don't know," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, when asked what's wrong with Lee. "I've said that before. When I watch him, I think his stuff is good. Tonight they were hitting him. It's kind of hard to really figure out."

Lee allowed a double to Jose Reyes to start the bottom of the first inning. Reyes advanced to third on a fly ball from Hanley Ramirez and scored when Logan Morrison hit a ground ball between Lee's legs. The lefty allowed a couple of more runs in the third inning when he allowed four consecutive hits, including a one-out double to Ramirez.

Things fell apart in the fifth. He allowed a one-out single to Giancarlo Stanton and a ground-rule double to Morrison to right-center field. It appeared Phillies right fielder Hunter Pence had a chance to make the catch before the ball hopped over the wall, but he appeared to change his route at the last second. Justin Ruggiano followed with a double to clear the bases to give the Marlins a 5-1 lead. Ruggiano later scored on John Buck's single to make it 6-1.

"It was just weird," Lee said. "It seemed like everything they hit went between third and short. They just got a lot of hits. It was one of those nights, I can't really explain it."

This season has been weird at best for Lee. The Phillies were relying heavily on him to keep the team competitive while it waited for Chase Utley and Ryan Howard to come back from injuries.

Lee has not picked up the slack while Roy Halladay has been on the disabled list, either. He has a 5.87 ERA in six starts since Halladay threw his last pitch for the Phillies on May 27. Of course, he isn't alone. The entire Phils rotation has a 5.16 ERA (106 earned runs in 185 innings) in that stretch.

"I figured we had three of the top-notch starters in the game," said Manuel, asked where the rotation ranked on his list of issues before the season started. "I thought our starting rotation had a chance to be pretty good, or good. That wasn't a really big concern."

But Manuel tried his best to remain upbeat about Lee's season. He was asked if he thought the losing was getting to the lefty.

"When I talk to him, he seems fine," Manuel said. "I usually talk to him every day. He handles it OK. But I'm sure he's concerned, and why shouldn't he be? I'm sure he's upset. Why shouldn't he be? When I look at him sometimes, I hope he is in some ways. I don't want him to be uptight and put a lot of pressure on himself, but I think he's more of a professional than that.

"I don't mind sending him out there every five days. Really. Where else are we going to go get somebody better? He's [pretty darn] good. I know he's 0-5. So what? I've been 0-and-[darned] 30. What the [heck] is that?"

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.