MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins hadn't forgotten the Cliff Lee they saw during his breakout 2005 season. That was the Indians pitcher who won 18 games and could command the strike zone, in and out, at any time in an at-bat. Well, just like the A's experienced in Lee's first two starts this season, the Twins got a good reminder of just what that pitcher looked like on Friday night.
After a rough 2007 season -- one in which he didn't face Minnesota at all -- Lee has appeared to regain his 2005 form. And it certainly looked that way in the Twins' 4-0 loss to the Indians. Effectively commanding the strike zone once again, Lee limited the Twins to just two hits over his eight innings. Lee (3-0) walked just one batter and struck out eight as he threw 109 pitches and shut the door on the Twins' offense. "I think we ran into kind of a buzzsaw over there," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That was a really, really good performance against us. [Lee] never really let us breathe out there. He never let us have a chance to get back in the game. It seemed like he was ahead in the count all day long." Craig Monroe has certainly seen his share of Lee. The Twins designated hitter had 27 career at-bats against Lee coming into the game, and even he walked away impressed with what he saw Friday night. "I think that was the best I've seen him pitch," Monroe said. "We've seen him fight from behind, always pitching from behind. And going into today, that's what we wanted to try to do. But [counts of] 1-2, 0-2 every at-bat makes it tough for the hitters to get locked in." Unfortunately, Twins starter Francisco Liriano couldn't put on quite the same show. In just his second Major League start since coming off Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery, Liriano pitched just five innings and gave up three runs on four hits. It wasn't so much the hits that proved costly for Liriano as it was the walks. Much like his first start in Kansas City, Liriano had problems commanding his fastball. He threw a total of 88 pitches, with only 47 of them strikes. "He has better command of his breaking ball and he gets a little breaking-ball happy," Gardenhire said. "And we all know the first thing you have to learn in the big leagues is to get back to the fastball in the zone. ... Throw more strikes with your fastball and work ahead, then use the other pitches. But he'll get there." At the start of the night, it appeared that maybe the cold weather had been the difference for Liriano in his Kansas City start. In the climate-controlled Metrodome, Liriano cruised through his first inning, even striking out Grady Sizemore swinging on one of his vintage, buckle-your-knees sliders. But that ease didn't last long. Liriano battled through a long second inning. One in which he walked two batters, one on just four pitches, and found himself getting behind in the count often. Liriano (0-2) ended up walking a total of five batters in his outing, a problem that both Gardenhire and the pitcher both attributed to a lack of fastball command. "I think I'm rushing too much with my fastball and trying to make a perfect pitch," Liriano said. "It's not working that way. I just need to calm down and get better and hit my spots with my fastball." Despite Liriano's inconsistency, the Indians' offense didn't do a lot of damage. But it came as no surprise that most of the production came from third baseman Casey Blake. Blake has a history of haunting the Twins, and he did exactly that Friday night. He delivered a two-run single off Liriano in the second inning and belted his first home run, a solo shot to left-center field, in the seventh off right-hander Juan Rincon. With his 2-for-4 day at the plate and three RBIs, Blake now has 14 home runs and 47 RBIs against the Twins in his career. Although it was yet another so-so start for Liriano, the Twins have come out of his first two outings feeling pleased with some of the progress the pitcher has made and hoping this is the start of even more good things to come from the 24-year-old southpaw. "There were times out there when you're going, 'Wow, the ball is really coming out of his hand,'" Gardenhire said. "It was jumping, snapping and he made some pretty good hitters look pretty bad. We just have to be patient here with him and see where we're at. ... All we can do is look at the progression and keep getting better each time. That's where we are at with Frankie."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.