Cliff Lee was true to his word.
In his last start, the ace of the Indians' staff was rocked for 10 runs (nine earned) in 22/3 inings, as his earned-run average soared to 18.90. He said the results were unfortunate, but he was working on commanding his fastball, and to do that he had to throw heaters almost every pitch.
He said next time would be different, that he would approach the outing like a real game. So on Sunday at Hi Corbett Field against the Rockies, Lee gave up two runs and six hits in five innings, though the Tribe lost 4-3.
"Obviously, I threw more off-speed pitches today,'' Lee said. ""I pitched rather than pump fastballs all the time.''
Lee threw 72 pitches, and he said he could have thrown more.
"I feel strong,'' he said. "I could easily have kept going. And from now on, I'll pitch like it's a real game.''
Lee has two more starts before the season begins and he faces the Rangers in Arlington April 6. As the No. 1 pitcher on the staff, Lee takes over Opening Day duties from C.C. Sabathia, who was traded last July.
Opening Day will have special meaning for Lee to this extent.
"It's exciting knowing that the team sees me as the No. 1 starter,'' he said. "Other than that, I want to treat it like any other game.. I want to do what I always try to do: Give my team a chance to win, not put extra pressure on myself.''
Lee does feel that he has extra responsibility being the ace.
"I'm hoping that guys look at me and learn things,'' he said. ""That's what I did when C.C. was here, watch how he went about his business.''
SEARCHING FOR CLUES -- The wide-open race for the Indians' final bullpen berth might not be quite as wide open as it appears.
With Adam Miller's finger injury having taken him out of the running, the contenders are (in alphabetical order) Vinnie Chulk, Matt Herges, Zach Jackson, Edward Mujica and Kirk Saarloos.
But it is Jackson who might have the most upside, because he is left-handed, can throw for at least three innings at a time and can be pressed into service as an emergency starter.
"All that works for him,'' manager Eric Wedge said Sunday. ""We brought him in as a potential starter and bullpen guy. But we're still not sure what his best role would be. He's pitched very well. He's been consisent and that's what it takes.''
In five spring training appearances, Jackson has given up nine earned runs and 15 hits in 141/3 innings. He gave up four runs in one four-inning outing.
WANTED: VERSATILITY -- Josh Barfield doesn't have to be a proficient third baseman to win the vacant utility berth. Barfield is a career second baseman who is learning to play third, with some difficulty.
"He doesn't have to do that,'' Wedge said. ""It's important to get him repetitions. We want him to get better at second, get more reps in the outfield, and we want him to be able to stand at third if we have to make certain moves.''
The primary contenders for utility player are Tony Graffanino, Trevor Crowe and Barfield. Crowe is handicapped because he is strictly an outfielder. Moreover, the club might not want a young player with the skills to be a regular to sit on the bench rather than play every day in the minors.
"That is something we'd have to consider,'' Wedge said.
CARMONA BACK ON SCHEDULE -- Wedge said that Fausto Carmona, hit in the right forearm with a batted ball last week, reported no problems after throwing a bullpen Saturday and will make his scheduled start on Tuesday.
"We dodged a bullet with that,'' the manager said.
TORRENT OF TV -- SportsTime Ohio will air three exhibition games, beginning with Tuesday's encounter against the White Sox at 4 p.m. (EDT). Thursday's 4 p.m. (EDT) game against the Angels also is on the schedule as is next Monday's game against the Padres, which has a 7 p.m. (EDT) start.
MARCHING ONWARD -- The Indians take their final of day of the spring today.