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Rangers unable to overcome Lee's short start

Rangers unable to overcome Lee's short start

ARLINGTON -- First of all, Cliff Lee said he feels good physically. He said that is not the problem.

The problem, he insisted after a 6-4 loss to the Twins on Thursday night, is location.

"I haven't been locating my pitches as well as I expect and they haven't missed," Lee said after the Rangers had their four-game win streak snapped. Their last loss was in Baltimore on Saturday and Lee was on the mound for that one as well.

"It hasn't been that many pitches either," Lee explained further. "It's just been a handful of pitches. I just have to stay away from the heart of the plate. If it were me making good pitches and they were hitting them, I wouldn't know what to do. But that hasn't been the case."

Instead Lee was out-pitched by Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano, who held the Rangers to two runs over seven innings. He took a two-hit shutout into the seventh when the Rangers scored twice off him. They also added more in the eighth on Vladimir Guerrero's two-run home run.

But the Twins forged a 5-0 lead after three innings against Lee, and the Rangers could not overcome that against Liriano and the Twins' bullpen.

Lee had his shortest outing yet as a Ranger, lasting just five innings while suffering his third straight defeat. Lee, who has had just two three-game losing streaks over the past three seasons, allowed five runs on seven hits and a walk, striking out five. He ended up throwing 97 pitches.

The big blows were a three-run home run in the second inning by Delmon Young and a two-run double by Michael Cuddyer in the third. The Rangers trailed 5-0 before they came to bat in the bottom of the third and were down six runs after six innings.

"Physically I feel good," Lee said. "Basically I made a mistake to Delmon Young. I threw a changeup over the middle of the plate and he hit a home run. That was the main reason why things didn't go my way. The pitch Cuddyer hit was a good pitch, it was a ball inside and he kept it fair. The pitch to Delmon Young I wish I could have that back."

It doesn't work that way and the Twins know that full well.

"If he makes a mistake, you have to capitalize on it," Young said. "We did that today. Usually a lot of times we foul it off, but today when we did get a pitch out over the plate, we were able to put good wood on it, which is rare when you are facing a guy like that."

The loss kept the Rangers from pulling off a sweep of the Twins, but they did take three of four and still remain 8 1/2 games in front of the A's in the American League West. The Rangers and the A's open a three-game series at the Ballpark in Arlington on Friday night.

Lee will not pitch in that series. His next start is scheduled for Tuesday in Kansas City. Lee has been pitching every fifth day since being acquired from the Mariners on July 9, but that may change. The Rangers have some off-days in the first few weeks of September, and they may start giving Lee some extra rest rather than altering their rotation so he pitches every fifth day.

"It's something we'll consider," manager Ron Washington admitted.

Lee insisted that's not necessary.

"That's why I work hard in the offseason," he said. "I want to be a guy who takes the ball and gets deep into the game. I'm not frustrated, just disappointed with the results. But I can look at each game and evaluate and know why. I'm not locating pitches."

Lee has now lost three straight starts while allowing 19 runs in 18 1/3 innings, he is 1-4 with a 6.20 ERA in his past six starts and is 2-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 10 starts since being acquired from the Mariners. The Rangers are 3-7 in those 10 starts. This was his shortest start since going four innings last Sept. 20 in what was basically a four-inning, rain-shortened, playoff tune-up for the Phillies.

"Every time Cliff is on the mound we expect to win," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said. "I'm not concerned with Cliff Lee. This is the big leagues and he's one of the best pitchers in the game. Cliff is one of those good pitchers who if they don't do well in one or two games, people are scrambling to try and find answers. But we have confidence in him every time he takes the mound."

The only real question is if there is any fatigue.

"He doesn't look tired to me," Washington said. "At the Major League level, when you throw the wrong pitch in the wrong spot, they don't miss it."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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