Cliff Lee tossed his third complete game shutout in a row last night, dominating Boston's patient, powerful offense while striking out five, walking two and allowing just two hits. Lee hasn't surrendered a run in his last 32 innings pitched, the longest stretch of his career, and he has allowed just one runner to cross home plate in 42 total June frames.
"I'm making pitches, staying out of the zone, using my breaking ball and getting lucky," Lee told reporters after his start.
The lefty is definitely making pitches, his breaking ball has been nasty, and he has received some fortunate bounces this month (.191 batting average on balls in play) after being snakebitten in April (.313) and May (.356). But, as his start against Boston shows, Lee isn't staying out of the zone so much as he's hitting the corners and avoiding throwing meatballs down the middle of the plate.
Against Boston, Lee threw 68 of his 112 pitches within the strike zone, or 61 percent. Even by Lee's standards -- he has thrown a major league-leading 56.7 percent percent of his offerings within the zone this season -- that's a lot of pitches over the plate. But what makes Lee's performance remarkable isn't the quantity of strikes, but the quality. Check out his fastball location versus the Red Sox:
Most of Lee's fastballs hugged the corners, and Red Sox batters went a collective 2-for-15 against the pitch.
Lee mentioned his curve in particular, and there again, he stayed within the zone while keeping the ball away from the center of the plate:
You'll often hear managers and announcers talk about the difference between control, or puting the ball within the zone, and command, which means locating the pitch to a particular spot within the zone. Lee is an example of a pitcher who has both in spades.