People say "Happy Felix Day" on any day when Felix Hernandez starts for the Mariners. But tonight Cliff Lee makes his much anticipated debut for the Mariners on Felix Hernandez bobblehead night. So is it "Happy Cliff Lee Day"? Or perhaps "Merry Cliff-mas." Either way, Lee is pitching tonight against the Texas Rangers. And as Wooderson said about Aerosmith in "Dazed and Confused:"
"I will be there."
What does the Felix bobblehead think about Cliff Lee pitching tonight?
He seems to think it's a good thing.
For those unfamiliar with Lee, what should you expect to see from him?
Well according to the commercial that I hear every 11 seconds, "he's a quiet craftsman from Benton, Arkansas, who's as cool as summer lemonade."
I think there's more to it than that. If you are at the game, you will see Lee run onto the field every inning. Some pitchers walk, some pitchers saunter, some jog, Felix does this shuffle/strut, but Lee runs out to the mound. He's one of the first people out there. It's as if he can't wait to get out there and throw.
Talking with a Phillies scout, he said that during the playoffs they had to make Lee wait a few moments in the dugout before charging out there because of the extended commercial breaks between innings.
Once he's out there before warming up, Lee has an Ichiro-like routine of arm swings and stretches before he starts throwing his warms ups pitches.
Now once a hitter steps in, my suggestion is to pay attention carefully. Lee works extremely fast. He might work faster than any other pitcher I've seen for the Mariners. Faster than Jarrod Washburn or Ryan Rowland-Smith or even Felix when he's on a roll. Lee gets the ball back from the catcher, gets on the rubber and is ready to pitch again.
Basically he's the antithesis of this guy ...
Lee's mechanics are very simple, but very different, especially from the full wind-up. Instead of lining up with his shoulders square and his feet pointing toward home, Lee starts with his body at an angle to home plate, and takes a simple step the side. He doesn't have a huge leg kick, and his glove hand and arm raise high as he delivers pitch, adding some deception to his delivery.
As for pitches. Lee relies on a fastball that sits around 89-92. He's doesn't throw exceptionally hard, but his fastball moves and when he's right he can keep put it on the corners whenever he wants. Lee also throws a cut fastball that is usually around 85-87. It rides in on right-hander hitters and if he's throwing it well you'll see him break plenty of bats. Lee also has a curveball that's more of an overhand variety. It isn't quite as nasty as Erik Bedard's curveball, but Lee's can be effective, particularly to lefties.
And of course there's the changeup which Adam Moore called "filthy" and "borderline unfair." It's a circle change (you can see the grip in the photo at the top) that has plenty of downward movement. And because of Lee's simple and consistent mechanics and arm motion, it's nearly impossible to pick up early. You will see several guys making that lunging swing for balls tonight. But it isn't just about swings and misses with that pitch. You'll often see plenty of swings where guys are out on their front foot and rolling over on the change up for easy ground balls.
Once Lee's done with his work in the inning, he will run off the field as well.
He's a no nonsense type of guy. And he pitches that way.
Lee should be on a pitch count of around 100. He'll be facing a solid Rangers lineup that could have Ian Kinsler, but won't have Nelson Cruz.
Regardless of the outcome, it's just good to see him finally pitch a game for the Mariners and their fans.