Phillies' potent offense excites Lee
New pitcher joins team in San Francisco, will debut Friday
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Phillies tried to make Cliff Lee feel like a part of the family almost immediately.Lee, whom the Phillies acquired Wednesday in a six-player deal with the Indians, showed up Thursday afternoon at AT&T Park with his 8-year-old son Jaxon. Lee performed numerous pregame interviews in the dugout and on the field while his son quietly and dutifully waited for his father to finish.
The pair eventually returned to the clubhouse, where Lee's new teammates had discovered a prototype batting helmet that is supposed to protect hitters from 100 mph fastballs.The players wanted to test it. So they did. Different players donned the helmet -- it made them look like the Great Gazoo from "The Flinstones" -- and had young Jaxon throw balls at their heads. They survived. Lee, who makes his Phillies debut Friday night against the Giants, survived the past few weeks of trade rumors. The rumors turned into reality Wednesday morning, when he unofficially learned he had been traded via the ticker on ESPN. (The Indians officially informed him a few hours later after both teams reviewed medical records.) The Phillies sent prospects Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Jason Knapp and Lou Marson to the Indians for Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco. Lee flew to San Francisco on Wednesday night and started to meet his teammates Thursday. The Phillies are expecting big things from Lee. He went 7-9 with a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts this season with the Indians, but the record is deceiving. Lee had the eighth-worst run support of any pitcher in the American League. That shouldn't be a problem with the Phillies, who have the best offense in the National League. "They had five All-Stars this year -- all the outfielders and basically all the infielders," said Lee, name-checking Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. "Those guys can swing it. A good offense can do nothing but benefit a pitcher. But you can't take that for granted. I'm sure there are going to be games where they score five or six runs in the first inning and give me a nice cushion, but either way I'm still trying to put up a zero." Conventional wisdom says Lee should adjust quite nicely to the National League. The American League generally is considered a more talented league than the National League, and the NL obviously doesn't have the designated hitter. CC Sabathia, who jumped from the Indians to the Brewers last season, watched his ERA drop 2.18 runs in the switch. The Phillies aren't expecting a drop quite that big -- although they certainly would love it -- but they are expecting Lee to form a reliable 1-2 punch in the rotation with Cole Hamels. "He had a lot of success over there," Lee said of Sabathia. "He tore it up pretty good. He had an unbelievable year. I can only hope to have a similar type of success that he did. You've still got to make pitches and get guys out. That's not any different." Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008 to win the Cy Young Award. Just a year before, he spent time in the Minor Leagues after he recovered slowly from an abdominal injury. "I feel like I'm throwing the ball similar [to 2008]," Lee said. "It's not exactly the same, but it's not that much of a difference." That is good news. Phillies fans are expecting big things from Lee. The Phillies pursued Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay as their No. 1 target, but Toronto wouldn't come down from its asking price. The Phillies changed course and got Lee instead. Does Lee feel any pressure knowing everybody is expecting the world from him? "Not really," he said. "No, honestly I don't. I look at things pretty simple. For me it's an opportunity to help a team that's already successful. They've already got an unbelievable team. My job is to come in here, throw strikes and give them a chance to win every time I pitch. I don't put any extra pressure on myself at all. It's still baseball. It's still the same distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound. New guys, but obviously some pretty good ones because they're in a good spot right now."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.