Lee Needs to Use Remainder of Season to Iron Out Speed Bumps

This Indians season has been, without a doubt, a rollercoaster for fans. Cleveland started the season ready to finish the business the team approached last season, and have been treated to a 2014 of highs and lows, with the team at times asserting themselves into the thick of the playoff chase, while simultaneously falling short when it matters most.

The season has also been one of varying performance of individual players, with the ever-varying levels of their personal success being displayed throughout the season. Yes, the accomplishments or failures of a team cannot be linked to one player, but the struggles of players certainly do impact the outcome of a game. Take, for example, C.C. Lee’s bizarre outing against Detroit on Sunday, September 14.

Part of the Indians’ traditionally dominant bullpen, Lee seemed to fall victim to the woes that usually plague the late-inning pitchers from the Motor City. He faced four batters during his outing in the eighth inning, giving up a single, walking two, and allowing a sacrifice bunt, while also throwing two wild pitches. He was taken off the mound before any further outs could be recorded in the inning.

It wasn’t that Sunday was simply a bad outing for Lee — it was an anomaly, a series of strange happenings that gave the Tigers a 5-3 lead and helped contribute to the sweep issued to the Tribe last week.

First, Lee threw a wild pitch that ended up soaring behind Eugenio Suarez. As if that ball wasn’t bizarre enough, two batters later, Lee sought to intentionally walk a batter and ended up throwing another wild pitch — this time high over the plate, allowing Don Kelly to score and give the Tigers a two-run lead.

Much like Sunday’s outing, Lee’s season hasn’t had the smoothest path. After playing two games in a Clippers uniform, to start 2014, Lee found himself on the Major League roster in April after pitching 4.1 total big league innings in eight games the season prior. He finished 2013 with no record and a 4.15 ERA, having allowed three runs (two earned) on four hits, walking three batters and striking out four.

2014 marked Lee’s first chance to fully establish himself as a big league reliever, though he racked up a 5.14 ERA in April and 4.15 in May, which earned him a trip back down to AAA Columbus. While with the Clippers for the second time this season, Lee played 18 games and allowed 24 hits, while also earning one save. He briefly saw Major League action again in July, played another five games in Columbus, and returned to Cleveland in the beginning of August. Since that final call-up, Lee has not looked back.

Over his last 28 days in an Indians uniform, Lee has posted a 7.11 ERA. He earned his first big league win on September 5 against the Chicago White Sox, in which he pitched 0.2 innings in the tenth inning and finished the game, walking one of the three batters he faced but allowing no hits or runs.

Lee is currently 1-1 overall on the season, as he was granted a loss on August 13 in the second game of the Indians doubleheader against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Lee pitched 1.0 inning to finish the game in the twelfth inning, facing six batters and allowing two hits, walking one batter, and giving up one earned run.

In his total 25.2 big league innings pitched this season, Lee has given up 27 hits, 14 runs, 13 of which have been earned, walked two, and struck out 24. He has allowed three home runs and has a 4.56 ERA.

When looking at the rest of the Indians bullpen, Lee, while showing signs of being a valuable member, is not necessarily invaluable. At almost 28, it is getting to be time for Lee to show why he belongs in the organization at the Major League level. With a bullpen that includes more solid members such as Scott Atchison, Kyle Crockett, Bryan Shaw, Nick Hagadone, and Cody Allen, Lee does not feel like a must-have member of the group. Yes, it’s no secret that Terry Francona favors a deep bullpen, but a deep bullpen is more valuable when it’s members are consistently consistent.

With playoff hopes starting to appear as little more than a dream, the remainder of the Indians’ season can be a time for players to prove their worth. Lee needs to use the last few series of the season to demonstrate the his Detroit outing was a fluke, and that he can overcome the challenge of pitching in a jam. If Lee can show that he can work out of sticky situations instead of needing to be taken out of them, his future potential with the Tribe rises, as does their ability to finally, in seasons to come, finish that business.

Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images

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