The Cleveland Indians haven't found a true staff ace since sending Cliff Lee to the Philadelphia Phillies and are surely glad they haven't had to face him since doing so.
That finally changes Wednesday night.
Lee returns to the city where he turned into one of baseball's best pitchers and gets his first crack at the Indians, who have turned into an offensive juggernaut of late.
They're the only team he's never faced and the one with which he made his major league debut in 2002. Lee (2-1, 3.03 ERA) was a middle-of-the-road starter early in his career before a breakout 2008 season, going 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA to win the AL Cy Young Award.
In July 2009, with the Indians concerned about signing the soon-to-be free agent, they dealt Lee to Philadelphia (12-15) for four players. None of them have had much success in the majors, and only pitcher Carlos Carrasco and catcher Lou Marson remain with Cleveland.
Making the Lee deal look even worse, the Indians (11-13) have finished below .500 and no higher than 23rd in the majors in ERA every year since his last full season with the team. No Cleveland pitcher has won more than 13 games since he left.
Lee, meanwhile, has the majors' third-best ERA (2.90) since the start of 2008 and his 23 complete games in that span rank second.
One of those came in his last start at Progressive Field, defeating Seattle on July 16, 2009.
"It doesn't feel like it's been that long since I played here," Lee said Tuesday. "Tomorrow is just another outing, but it's going to be interesting and it's going to be neat."
The left-hander was 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA in his first three starts this season but has allowed eight runs and 17 hits over 12 innings in his last two.
He'll be facing a red-hot Cleveland offense which has outscored opponents 33-5 while pounding out 45 hits - 18 for extra bases - during a three-game winning streak. That follows an 11-game stretch during which the Indians failed to score more than three runs nine times.
They opened this two-game set by hitting seven home runs - the most by one team in any game this season - en route to a 14-2 victory Tuesday.
Ryan Raburn became the first Indians player since Travis Hafner in 2004 to record two straight multihomer games. He's 7 for 8 with seven RBIs in that span. Raburn had one home run in his previous 87 games.
"Right now everything is clicking for me," he said. "I'm trying to ride this out as long as I can."
Mark Reynolds and Michael Brantley each hit a two-run homer Tuesday and have keyed the win streak, going a combined 12 for 25.
Reynolds, though, is 0 for 6 with five strikeouts against Lee and Raburn has gone 2 for 19.
Nick Swisher is 8 for 25 (.320), but he may miss a second straight game due to a sore shoulder.
While Lee has surrendered five walks through five starts, counterpart Trevor Bauer (0-1, 5.40) issued seven in his lone appearance for Cleveland this season. Bauer, though, yielded only two hits and three runs in five innings of the 6-0 loss to Tampa Bay on April 6.
The right-hander was sent back to Triple-A Columbus after that game with Carrasco returning from a suspension, and he may follow this outing the same way. Bauer, 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three starts at Columbus, is starting only because Cleveland is playing its sixth game in five days.
Bauer is 1-3 with a 5.91 ERA in five major league starts, walking 20 in 21 1-3 innings.
Philadelphia had a three-game win streak snapped Tuesday, but the bright spot was Delmon Young going 2 for 3 with a homer in his Phillies debut. Young, last year's AL championship series MVP with Detroit, had been on the disabled list as he recovered from ankle surgery.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved