CLEVELAND -- Indians starter Cliff Lee has been sent back to the minor leagues, a surprising demotion for Cleveland's left-hander who lost his fourth straight start on Thursday night.
Lee, who signed a three-year, $14 million contract extension last season, dropped to 5-8 with a 6.38 ERA following a 14-9 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the final of a four-game series. The 28-year-old allowed eight runs -- seven earned -- and nine hits in four-plus innings.
After giving the ball to manager Eric Wedge in the fifth inning, Lee ran off the field and sarcastically tipped his cap at booing fans before disappearing down the dugout steps. He's the first Cleveland pitcher to allow seven earned runs in three straight starts since Wes Ferrell in 1933.
Lee will report to Triple-A Buffalo. The Indians also recalled reliever Edward Mujica, and after acquiring outfielder Kenny Lofton in a trade from Texas, they optioned rookie outfielder Ben Francisco to the Bisons.
After beginning the season on the disabled list with an abdominal strain, Lee has looked nothing like the pitcher who won 14 games in 2004, 18 in 2005 and 14 last season.
The Indians had hoped he could work through this troubling stretch, but the club finally ran out of patience with Lee, who had two minor league options remaining and will next pitch for the Bisons.
Following Thursday's loss, Wedge refused to discuss Lee's future but hinted to a possible move.
"What I want is to put our team in position to win as many games as possible in the last days of July, and August and September,'' Wedge said.
The Indians, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2001, trail first-place Detroit by 1½ games in the AL Central and lead the wild-card race.
Cleveland signed Lee to a multiyear contract last August, one of several young players the team has locked up to long-term deals. Lee is making $2.75 million this season. He'll make $3.75 million in 2008, $5.75 million in 2009 with the club holding an $8 million option for 2010.
This will be Mujica's fourth stint with the Indians this season. He went 2-1 with 13 saves in 30 appearances for Buffalo.