CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Cliff Lee makes it all look easy, and Drew Smyly had no reason to believe otherwise until he worked out with Lee in Little Rock this winter. The pitchers share a home state and agent. Smyly is trying to crack the Detroit Tigers' rotation and thought any time spent with Lee would help.
Then, 15 sets into the first exercise, Smyly understood.
"I've never had a workout like that," Smyly said. "When are we going to move onto a different exercise, man? We're just doing the same (stuff). That's just how he is. He goes hard, gets his work in, and he's out of there."
Lee threw his first pitch of spring training at 1:07 p.m. Monday. He walked off the mound 20 minutes later having fired 29 pitches in two nonchalant innings of the Phillies' 10-1 loss. Those who watched wondered if Lee could have done the same thing in the dead of an Arkansas winter with zero preparation.
The talk inside a veteran Phillies clubhouse is about change. Adapt or die, the thirtysomethings say. But Cliff Lee just sits at his corner locker doing whatever Cliff Lee does.
Lee's 3.16 ERA was ninth-best in the National League last season. He threw more first-pitch strikes than any other pitcher. He had the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball.
Change? Lee scoffs at the very idea.
"I had a stretch there where I had four or five really bad starts in a row," Lee said. "I wish I could have eliminated that, minimized some of the damage there."
"Other than that, I don't think there is a whole lot I could have changed."
Lee will earn $25 million in 2013 and somehow he is an overlooked arm in Phillies camp. Roy Halladay is attempting to recapture his dominance. Cole Hamels signed the richest deal in Philadelphia sports history and is in line for his first opening-day start.
And Lee? He is the model of consistency with no frills. No starter over the last five seasons has walked fewer batters per nine innings than Lee. In 2012, he threw first-pitch strikes to an astounding 71 percent of batters he faced. His strikeout-to-walk ratio was 7.39. The next closest in baseball was Joe Blanton at 4.88.
Lee said he probably could have thrown a few innings his first day in camp. He tossed a few times in Arkansas before arriving. He turns 35 in August and is under contract for three more seasons.
He has made at least 28 starts for five straight years. His ERA during that span is 2.89. His average fastball velocity, according to PITCHf/x, has actually increased with age. (It has risen every season since 2007, from 89.2 mph to 91.7.)
Lee believes there is more to achieve.
"There is always something you can do better," he said. "There is always something you can improve on. There is always a pitch you can throw better in certain counts. Whatever. It's a never-ending deal. There is always room for improvement, no matter how good or bad you did."
Improvement from 2012 to 2013 could depend on luck. Lee won just six games in 2012, and much was made of that. But given his other numbers, it was a hollow statistic. Or, as pitching coach Rich Dubee says, a pitcher has no control over his win-and-loss record.
Lee allowed 26 home runs in 2012, his most since 2006. Never before had a higher percentage (11.8) of his fly balls landed as home runs. That is either an anomaly, or something Lee must fix.
"You never really have it completely figured out," Lee said. "There are constant adjustments. But my routine for the most part has stayed the same for quite a while."
So has his success.
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