Notes: Lee to unveil new pitch

Notes: Lee to unveil new pitch

CLEVELAND -- Cliff Lee will return to the rotation on Thursday a new man. Well, a man with a fresh pitch at least.

Lee will unveil a slider nearly a year in the making when he makes his season debut after an abdominal strain suffered during Spring Training forced him to miss the season's opening month.

"I'll try it and see if it works," Lee said. "It can't hurt to have another pitch."

The pitch was born midway through last season, when Lee and pitching coach Carl Willis began to discuss adding a pitch to complement the left-hander's fastball, cutter and curve.

Lee briefly worked on the pitch during bullpen sessions with the intent of perfecting it during Spring Training. The injury stalled the project, but after he felt comfortable with the slider during his three Minor League rehab starts, Lee is ready for the big debut.

If all goes well, Lee hopes the slider will serve as a devastating strikeout option, with the pitch sweeping away from left-handers and diving at the back foot of right-handers.

"I think a lot of the time, guys were sitting on my fastball and curve, so I think this pitch will help me," Lee said. "I think it's something I can do. It's just a matter of getting a feel for it and getting used to it."

Lee hopes to throw between 90-100 pitches to get that feel on Thursday.

Tribe remembers Hancock: The big screen television in Cleveland's clubhouse flashed the news at around 11 a.m. ET: Josh Hancock, a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals, was killed at 29.

For those on the Indians who once played with Hancock, the tragic news hit particularly hard.

"It's just crazy," said Jason Michaels, who played with Hancock for a season in Philadelphia. "He was a great guy, got along with everyone. Wow. It's unbelievable."

Hancock was killed early Sunday morning in St. Louis after his 2007 Ford Explorer crashed into a tow truck on a St. Louis highway.

Outfielder Trot Nixon and catcher Kelly Shoppach were also one-time teammates of Hancock during his time in the Red Sox organization.

Plate patience: The Tribe's .244 average is fourth-worst in the American League, their .976 fielding percentage is second-worst and their 4.37 team ERA is in the league's bottom half.

Cleveland has overwhelmed few on paper this year. Yet somehow, the Indians have gotten off to their best start since 2000 and sit perched atop the ruthless AL Central.

So how, exactly, have they done it?

One reason is patience. And lots of it.

Entering Sunday, Tribe hitters had walked 97 times through 21 games, a pace 41 percent higher than last season at this point. So while its average founders, the club's .344 on-base percentage is third in the league. Cleveland is also averaging 5.19 runs per game, which is only slightly off last year's clip.

The increased discipline has not slipped past manager Eric Wedge.

"Our guys do a pretty good job of making pitchers work," Wedge said. "And now, there is another year's worth of experience under their belts."

Here's the question: Grady Sizemore's inside-the-park homer on Friday was the fifth by an Indians player in Jacobs Field history. Casey Blake had the last such round tripper on May 25, 2006, against Detroit. David Bell (Aug. 14, 1998, vs. Seattle), Enrique Wilson (May 21, 2000, vs. New York) and Coco Crisp (July 4, 2005, vs. Detroit) round out the list. Opponents, on the other hand, have hit just two since the park opened in 1994. Name that "Royal" pair.

Orioles commend umpires: Baltimore predictably lauded Saturday night's umpires for bizarrely tacking on a run three innings after the controversial third-inning timing play.

"They got it right," O's manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We finished the game and scored some more runs. It's kind of like a moot point now, I think."

Not exactly. The Indians placed the game under protest on the basis that the Orioles did not initially argue the call. The Commissioner's office will now review the game and determine whether any action should be taken. In an extreme scenario, the game could be replayed from the third inning on.

On the Orioles' side, at least they'll have a good defense. They're manager just wasn't paying attention. And neither apparently were any of his players. Only bench coach Tom Trebelhorn sensed trouble right away.

Still, he did not approach crew chief Ed Montague until after the bottom of the third inning.

"The more I thought about it, the more I said, 'Son of a gun, that's an appeal play, that's not a double play,'" Trebelhorn said. "[Nick] Markakis was well across home plate before they made the appeal at first base to retire [Miguel] Tejada. By rule, the run counts in black and white."

If only it was that simple.

On this date: In 1931, Tribe right-hander Wes Ferrell pitched a no-hitter against the St. Louis Browns, an outfit that included Ferrell's brother, Rick. As if tossing the sixth no-hitter in club history wasn't enough, Ferrell drove in four runs with a double and a homer in Cleveland's 7-0 win. Since that day, Indians pitchers have held the opposition hitless on nine occasions -- the last coming in 1981 with Len Barker's perfect game.

Down on the farm: Ben Francisco's bases-loaded single with two outs in the 11th inning lifted Triple-A Buffalo (11-6) past Pawtucket, 10-7, on Saturday afternoon. Franklin Gutierrez added his second homer of the year. ... Double-A Akron starter Aaron Laffey gave up four runs on 12 hits over five innings, but still picked up the win as the Aeros dusted Reading, 10-4, for their fourth straight win. Trevor Crowe went 2-for-5 with a three-run double. ... Matthew Whitney and Nicholas Weglarz each homered in Class A Lake County's 5-4 loss to Lakewood. ... Class A Kinston's Jose Costanza went 4-for-5 with a pair of RBIs as the Indians topped Salem, 7-3, on Saturday.

And the answer is ... Surprisingly enough, Kansas City has both of the opposition's inside-the-park homers. Carlos Febles had one on April 14, 1999, and Abraham Nunez hit one on Sept. 17, 2004.

On deck: The Indians are off on Monday before opening up a three-game set with the Blue Jays on Tuesday night at Jacobs Field. C.C. Sabathia (3-0, 3.18 ERA) will be opposed by Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett (2-1, 4.18 ERA).

David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.