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Rockies rookie Friedrich has new outlook after working with Phillies' Lee

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
The Rockies like what they've seen from left-hander Christian Friedrich, their first-round pick in 2008, like it enough to hand him the ball so he can make his first major-league start on Wednesday in San Diego.

For that, they can thank Phillies ace Cliff Lee.

Well, maybe not for all of it. But Lee gets a definite assist.

See, Friedrich and Lee share an agent, and it was Darek Braunecker who suggested to Friedrich last winter that maybe a short, off-season tutoring session from Lee would be beneficial to his career. A year earlier, after all, it had helped the Cubs' Travis Wood.

Friedrich, 24, was all ears, and last January drove from his home just north of Daytona Beach, Fla., to Little Rock, Ark., and spent about 10 days working out with Lee.

"I learned more than I ever thought I could in that short of time," Friedrich says.

Not only did the big lefty (6-4, 215 pounds) learn from Lee how better to throw on a downward trajectory to get the most out of his velocity and movement, he also picked up a couple of mechanical things that he hopes keeps him healthier longer.

From his offseason workouts, Friedrich had developed pain in his elbow just before the session with Lee.

"I was upset going in because I thought I wouldn't be able to throw," he said. "But watching him for five minutes taught me how to throw downhill, and the pain went away in two days.

"It was one of the weirdest things I've ever experienced."

Part of the reason for Friedrich's slower-than-hoped-for development (the Rockies picked him 25th overall in '08) is because he fought through elbow pain in both 2009 and 2010.

"It would usually come about a third of the way, or a quarter of the way, through the season," he says. "Nothing structural, just tendinitis."

But now, after what he discovered with Lee, his elbow has been just fine while going 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in five starts for Colorado Springs. During that time, he held opponents to a .213 batting average, fanned seven and walked four in 30 innings pitched.

"Best I've felt," Friedrich says.

Regarding Lee, he says, "I learned more from just watching him throw bullpens. His work ethic, I've never seen anything like it. I knew he was strong, but he's stronger than I thought.

"He has such a great angle on the ball. He's got more deception than people realize."

What Friedrich has noticed is that when he gets into trouble in a game, he's not getting enough of an angle, not throwing on enough of a downward plane.

What he's also noticed with Lee is that the Phillies' lefty works at a "pretty good tempo, and slows the game down when he needs to."

He hasn't spoken with Lee since the winter because, well, they've each got day jobs that are miles apart. Plus, Lee is an established veteran and Friedrich doesn't want to be a pest.

"He's a busy guy," Friedrich says. "But I definitely want to thank him. And I hope to work with him again next year."

Meantime, Friedrich's major-league debut just so happens to be on the same day that Lee is scheduled to come off of the disabled list and make his first start for the Phillies since April 18 in San Francisco.

Friedrich smiles when he hears that.

"That's awesome," he says.
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