Tribe bats back Lee's strong outing

Tribe bats back Lee's strong outing

CLEVELAND -- Manager Eric Wedge, as is his tendency, tempered his emotions about the strong outing he received from his starting pitcher and the eruption he saw from his offense Monday night.

To Wedge, the Indians' 10-1 blowout of the Phillies in the opener of a three-game Interleague set at Jacobs Field was merely one of those good old-fashioned steps forward.

An offense that had been scuffling -- to the point where slugger Travis Hafner was benched for the second straight day and No. 9 hitter Josh Barfield was moved up to the two-hole -- broke out with a bang.

Backup catcher Kelly Shoppach's four-RBI outburst was merely part of an offensive attack in which the Indians knocked the Phillies' young ace, Cole Hamels, out of the game after just five innings.

"I felt we did a good job against their starter and took advantage of some opportunities," Wedge said. "It's got to be a series of games and at-bats and different individuals to get us back offensively."

Left-hander Cliff Lee, who, for the most part since his return from the disabled list in early May, had been somewhat of a liability in the rotation, needed to get back, as well. And he looked to be doing so on this night.

Lee won his second straight start with a seven-inning performance in which he allowed just one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts.

"We've seen him slowly progressing," Wedge said of Lee. "He's definitely more in control with his rhythm and slowing the game down."

The key to that improved rhythm, Lee said, is having less of a dependency on his fastball. Fearing opposing hitters were finding him to be predictable with his use of that pitch, he's begun working in his curveball and his changeup with greater regularity, and the results have been encouraging -- especially in this one.

"I've worked on a couple things to calm myself down and get in a better position to locate my pitches," Lee said. "I'm mixing in my offspeed pitches more."

Lee needed to stay calm in the first, when he gave up consecutive one-out singles to put runners on the corners. When Lee struck out Ryan Howard and Aaron Rowand in succession, he set the tone for a night in which he'd be in command of the Phils.

"To get out of that without giving up a run, I'm very happy with that," he said. "That was big for me."

Just as big, though, was what the Indians did to Hamels in the game's first two innings. Spurred by Grady Sizemore's leadoff bunt single and ensuing stolen base, they manufactured a pair of runs in the first. And in the second, Shoppach's three-run homer that just barely cleared the top of the wall in left-center field made it 5-0.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel argued that the ball didn't make it out, but replays proved otherwise.

"I didn't know what happened," Shoppach said. "But [the umpire] signaled home run, so I kept running."

From that point, Lee could run away with the game. After giving up those base hits in the first, he retired the next 11 batters he faced.

Shoppach, who caught Lee for the first time this season, thought Lee's curveball dictated that success.

"It's important for him to remember this outing," Shoppach said. "[The curveball] helped him stay back on the rubber and be more accurate with his other pitches."

The only pitch that got away from Lee came in the sixth, when Howard slapped a solo homer to the right-field seats.

But in the bottom of the inning, the Indians went off again -- this time against reliever Geoff Geary. With two on, Shoppach sent a double hurtling off the left-field wall to bring in one run. After Sizemore was intentionally walked to load the bases, Barfield lined a single to left to bring home two more and make it 9-1.

As if all that offensive help wasn't enough, the Indians also turned in one of their finest defensive games of the season.

When Lee let the Phillies load the bases with two outs in the fifth, Shane Victorino sent a liner to the right side that first baseman Victor Martinez leapt for and grabbed with the final out. When Aaron Rowand sent a ball hurtling toward right field in the sixth, Franklin Gutierrez made a sensational grab against the wall. And in the seventh, with a man on first, Lee fielded an Abraham Nunez grounder and misfired on his throw to second, but Jhonny Peralta scooped the ball up and started a double play.

"The defense was great, and we scored a lot of runs," Lee said. "That makes it a lot easier for the pitcher."

But this win was so easy that Wedge almost seemed suspicious of it.

"It's not going to be a straight climb," he said. "There's going to be good days and bad days. What we're seeing is guys moving in the right direction."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.