By Kirby Arnold
While Cliff Lee gets a feel for his pitches, he showed reporters he’s a pretty good hand at dry humor.
After pitching three innings in the Mariners’ 6-3 victory over the Rangers today, Lee drew an audience of a dozen reporters — several from national outlets — who asked about everything from his fastball command to his feel for his new team and whether he’ll re-sign with the M’s or become a free agent.
That’s a mouthful, but no moreso than what Lee apparently had between his cheek and gum because he stopped the interview three times to walk to the spit bucket.
With that, we present five minutes with Cliff Lee:
“I felt like I threw a lot of strikes, used most all of my pitches. I want to locate fastballs. That’s the No. 1 thing for me right now. I was pleased with where that was at, so I was able to use more of my pitches than anticipated.”
What was it like to go through the whirlwind of the past year?
“That’ something kind out of my control, but I’m trying to make the best of the situation. We’ve got a good team and I like where I’m at. It’s not a bad thing.”
Would you like to have stayed with the Phillies?
“I liked it there. They won the World Series two years ago and went back last year. It’s a good situation there, a good team. I enjoyed every minute of being there, but I’m not there anymore.”
How is your foot?
“The foot is a non-issue. It’s behind me. Sorry, I need to spit.”
Has moving around so much taken the fun out of the game?
“It’s totally a business. I’ve known that for a while. That’s something that’s out of my control. For me to worry about it or to get frustrated about it, it’s pointless because I have no control over it.”
After all, you’ll get your say as a free agent.
You’ll get your chance to have a say on things as a free agent.
(At this point, Lee looks stonefaced serious, as though he didn’t hear or understand the reporter’s comment. He heard it all right, and the eventual twinkle in his eye makes that clear. Then he comments on the possibility of free agency.)
“I haven’t really thought a whole lot about it, to be honest. I’ve been asked that question a few times, but I’m focused on preparing for the season. If I sign here, great. If that doesn’t work out and I’m a free agent, that’s good too. It’s a win-win situation. I could be traded again. You never know what’s going to happen. That’s the nature of this business. All I can do is control what I can control, and that’s to make sure of my preparation and get ready for the season.”
After all, it was two years ago when you were sent to the minors to work on things.
“You never know what’s going to happen. You can’t take anything for granted. I had a rough year in ‘07 and I did everything I could to prevent that from happening again. I’m going to continue to think along those lines and focus on today. What can I do today to get ready for tomorrow? And so forth. Stay in that frame of mind and not think if I’m a free agent at the end of the year.”
(At this point, Lee makes a gesture with his left arm and knocks a recorder from a writer’s hand. He looks down for a moment as the writer backs away to pick it up, then with perfect comedic timing he continues to talk while gesturing with both hands, whacking three more recorders and knocking another to the floor. Every other reporter tightens their grip. The serious look on Lee’s face barely changes.)
What has allowed you to get comfortable here so quickly?
“That’s the way I am. I’m pretty laid-back. It’s a bunch of good guys here and it’s not hard to fit in with this group. A lot of good people from the coaches to the trainers to the players, the management. They’ve done it right and it didn’t take long to see that. It’s a good environment.”
Any contract talks at all?
“No. I’ve got to spit again.”
(Slight pause as he does, indeed, spit)
“When the season starts, I want to focus on pitching and not worry about contractual talks and answering questions about it. I want to focus on the opposing teams. I don’t want to have to deal with that during the season. That’s how I view it. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
Would you ask for a no-trade clause?
“Every player wants that. Why would I not want that?”
Can you get a good feel for a team in spring training, or does that need to happen after you get into the season with Seattle?
“It didn’t take me long to realize there are good people here. It’s a good organization. In free agency, you don’t get the luxury to spend some time with a team and the guys and see how you’re going to like it. Looking at it that way, I’ve got an opportunity to do that where in free agency you don’t. I like it here.”
He answered a couple more questions about how much he liked his teammates, then finished with one last trip to the spit bucket.
Other notes from the Mariners’ victory:
—For the most part, the Mariners played a game fans may see a lot of this season — with pitching, defense and doing the little things offensively to score runs. The scored in the first and third innings when the leadoff hitter reached base and those behind him advanced them with well-placed ground balls, hit-and-run opportunities and a sacrifice fly. Milton Bradley’s grounder to shortstop scored Ichiro Suzuki in the first inning and Suzuki’s sacrifice fly scored Josh Wilson in the third.
The Mariners turned four double plays, including a nice one to end the game when Matt Tuiasosopo smothered a hard smash at him to start an around-the-horn double play.
—Mike Sweeney continued his scorching start, going 2-for-3 with two doubles off Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz, whose pitches hit 99 mph a few times. Sweeney’s second double drove in three runs in the fifth. “I thought about going to third on the first one but they stopped me,” Sweeney said. “The second one, I was just tired.”