WASHINGTON - Consider the past two games Exhibits 1 and 1A for why the Philadelphia Phillies assembled their ace-after-ace starting rotation.
Cliff Lee produced a 12-strikeout, three-hit shutout in a 4-0 victory over the Washington Nationals on Thursday night, a day after Roy Halladay went nine innings to win, too, giving the Phillies consecutive complete games for the first time since 1999.
“I want to throw nine innings every time I take the mound. That’s that,” said Lee (2-1), who walked one batter and went to three-ball counts on only two others. “I hope Roy does it every day before me, too, but that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Pretty nice when it works out that way, especially in this age of protected arms, scrutinized pitch counts and relief specialists.
“I want to be a guy who throws complete games every time,” Lee said. “That’s not really realistic, but going into each game, that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Lee didn’t come close his previous start, at Atlanta last Friday, when he allowed six runs and 10 hits in 3 innings – his shortest start since Sept. 4, 2009.
But he was back at his best against Washington, fooling hitters with darting fastballs across the black of the plate, sweeping changeups in the dirt, and plenty of other right-where-he-wanted-them pitches.
Lee faced 30 batters, three over the minimum, while getting his 21st complete game and sixth shutout. He fell one strikeout shy of his career high.
“Got sharper as the game went on,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said of Lee. “And I think the called strikeouts is an indication that he’s hitting some spots that you just don’t feel like you can do much with the pitch It just kind of ties you up.”
Nationals leadoff hitter Ian Desmond went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. His take on Lee?
“He controls the zone. He’s working in and out. He’s changing his speeds. He just throws strikes,” Desmond said. “And he works quick. He doesn’t really let you get too comfortable.”
It’s rare that a guy can be perfect through five innings and not come close to being the evening’s best pitcher – yet that’s what happened to Jordan Zimmermann (1-2).
Less than 20 months removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, Washington’s right-hander matched zeros with Lee early. He retired Philadelphia’s first 15 batters, but the 16th, Carlos Ruiz, drove an 0-1 curveball barely over the wall in left for a homer.
“Only mistake I made all night,” Zimmermann said.
Two outs later, the Phillies delivered a second hit, a double by Shane Victorino, and he scored when fill-in third baseman Jerry Hairston Jr. threw wildly for an error.
That would be enough offense to back Lee, who started last season with Seattle.
Lee finished the game by getting Jayson Werth – the costly free agent the Phillies let leave for Washington – to ground out.
Lee and Halladay are the first Phillies starters go the distance back to back since Paul Byrd and Curt Schilling in 1999.