Cliff Lee Among 5 National League Players Who Need a Good Week
With the calendar turning to July, there are no more "early-season struggles." We're three months into the 2012 baseball season now.
But this week, we're focusing more on players who have hit a rough patch in their respective seasons or have been put into new roles and need to perform.
I also believe that we have a player on this list on consecutive weeks for the first time this season. That would be a surprise to the Mets' Ike Davis, who was close to having this weekly feature named after him. I usually try to avoid repeating myself, though.
With all that said, here are five National League players who could really use a good week.
Chien-Ming Wang, Washington Nationals
With the weather warming up and some starting pitchers becoming fatigued after three months of throwing baseballs, the Washington Nationals could use some help from their long relievers.
On Saturday, the Nats needed some quality innings from Chien-Ming Wang after Stephen Strasburg was pulled from his start after three innings due to "heat-related issues," including dehydration and heightened blood pressure.
Instead, Wang was pounded by the Braves, giving up four runs and five hits in two innings and putting the game out of reach for the Nationals.
If Wang couldn't do the job as a starter and is pitching even worse as a reliever, what use is he to the Nationals? If he doesn't begin to improve, he looks like a candidate to be designated for assignment.
Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers
Dee Gordon may be in the midst of having a good week, which could save the Los Angeles Dodgers from deciding whether or not to send him to the minors.
Gordon went 2-for-5 with three stolen bases in the Dodgers' 8-3 win over the Mets Sunday night. That's exactly the sort of production the struggling Dodgers' offense needs from its leadoff hitter.
However, we're still talking about a player who's batting .228/.278/.279 in 318 plate appearances. Gordon leads the league with 28 stolen bases, nine more than the nearest competitor. Just think how many he'd have if he got on base.
Gordon's defense should be more reason for concern. He leads all major league shortstops with 17 errors, and Fangraphs ranks him as the second-worst defender at his position, according to Ultimate Zone Rating.
The Dodgers can probably live with that if Gordon hits like he did on Sunday night. But he needs to prove that's a pattern, not a one-game fluke.
Josh Collmenter, Arizona Diamondbacks
I can hear the reaction of Arizona Diamondbacks fans now.
"Josh Collmenter needs a good week? Have you been watching him? He's been great this year!"
Collmenter had an awful April, compiling a 9.82 ERA in four starts, allowing 21 runs and 25 hits in 18.1 innings. After being moved to the bullpen, however, he was excellent. In 10 appearances, Collmenter has a 1.19 ERA, allowing three runs over 22.2 innings.
That span included four scoreless innings last Tuesday in relief of Daniel Hudson. But with the news that Hudson is going to need Tommy John surgery, Collmenter will cover his spot in the D-Backs' starting rotation.
So will he keep pitching well, or is Collmenter better as a reliever than a starter?
Early results were encouraging, based on Collmenter's start against the Brewers on Sunday. He allowed one run and three hits over seven innings.
Collmenter's next turn is scheduled for Friday against the Dodgers, a team struggling to score runs (Sunday night aside). That looks like a fortunate development.
Drew Pomeranz, Colorado Rockies
With their starting rotation in tatters, the Colorado Rockies calling up prized pitching prospect Drew Pomeranz was long overdue. The 2012 season is essentially a lost cause now, so why not give a chance to the organization's younger players and see how they fare against big-league competition?
Pomeranz got the call on Sunday and held the San Diego Padres to one run and two hits over six innings. That was the kind of effort the Rockies and their fans were hoping to see from him. The key, according to Pomeranz, was to stop worrying about his mechanics and just throw.
"I stopped trying to be so mechanical," Pomeranz told the Denver Post's Troy Renck. "I stopping worrying about being here with my arms or here with my glove. I just picked my leg up high and threw it."
Yes, it needs to be mentioned that the Padres have scored the fewest runs in the majors and sport the lowest team batting average in the National League. But if Pomeranz is a legit big-league starter, that's exactly the sort of lineup he should be shutting down.
An excellent start against the Washington Nationals in his next scheduled turn on Friday would be even more impressive.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
As I said in the introduction, I believe this is the first time we've had a player on our "needs a good week" list in consecutive weeks. Ike Davis probably should have been the first, but for how many weeks were we supposed to mention him?
Facing the Marlins—a team that had an awful June—Lee was battered for six runs and 10 hits in less than five innings of work. His three strikeouts tied a season low. It was easily Lee's worst performance of the season.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb, neither Lee nor Phillies manager Charlie Manuel have an explanation for Lee's struggles. Pitching coach Rich Dubee believes he knows what the problem is, but he's not sharing them with the press.
Lee is 0-5 with a 4.13 ERA for the season. As Gelb points out, Lee's ERA hasn't been that high going into July since 2007, the year before it all clicked together for him and he became the dominant left-hander we've become familiar with.
Can Lee break through against the Mets in his next scheduled start? Lee has faced the Mets three times this season, compiling a 4.26 ERA in 19 innings. This would be an excellent time for Lee to turn himself around.
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