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The Big Five with … Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Before Cliff Lee signs a mega-free-agent deal this off-season, he’s got another showdown with Tim Lincecum coming in Game 5. And this time, he’ll have to bounce back after one of his worst starts of the year — and certainly the worst in his otherwise brilliant postseason career. Not to mention, facing The Big Five: 

You’ve set such a high standard for yourself that on the rare occasion when you did struggle, was it a surprise to you?

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. I know every time I go out there, I expect to be successful. So any time it’s anything less than that, you’re disappointed. You never know what’s going to happen out there. Those guys swinging the bat are pretty good, too. If you make mistakes, that’s what they get paid to hit. I was throwing a lot of balls over the plate. You can’t do that on a consistent basis and expect to be successful. They showed me that the other night.”

Was there any issue with the mound in Game 1?

“No, none. I know I kick and scratch on the mound, but I do that every time, if you’ve watched close enough. That’s part of, I guess, my in-between-pitch routine and what I do. I like to pay attention to where my foot is hitting. I try to keep (the landing spot) smooth and level and clean.”

You said after Game 1 that health wasn’t an issue for you. Have you figured out why that happened? Was it a mechanical thing, or something else you need to change?

“Anything I say is an excuse, and I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I threw balls down the middle of the plate, and they hit them. I’ve got to do a better job of locating pitches. The reason why, and all that stuff, regardless of what I say, it sounds like an excuse, so I’d rather not say anything.”

Has your opinion of the Giants hitters changed at all since the series began?

“They’ve got a lot of quality hitters; there’s no doubt about it. In the last press conference, I was saying how good their pitching staff was, and it made it seem like their hitters aren’t as good — and that’s not the case. They proved it in San Francisco for sure. They scored, what was it, 20-something runs in two games? They’re pitch-able, but like I say, if you make mistakes and miss over the plate, and they’re 2-0, 3-1 (in the count), bad things are going to happen.”

You’ve been with the Rangers for just more than four months. What’s your take on your time here?

“It’s been a great experience; they’re great teammates. I knew the offense was unbelievable before I got here because I’ve had to face them in the past, and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. I knew we were going to score runs, no question about that.

“It’s definitely one unit working together. There are a lot of individually talented players, but we really do pull for each other, and if someone doesn’t get it done, the next guy is there to do it. That’s the recipe for a winning team, and that’s why we are where we’re at.”

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a contributor to NBCSports.com who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll interview a guest during each day of the World Series for HardballTalk.com.

Sonny Gray was denied insurance coverage for the World Baseball Classic

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Pitcher Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics poses for a portrait during photo day at HoHoKam Stadium on February 22, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports that Athletics’ right-hander Sonny Gray will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic after failing to meet the necessary criteria for insurance coverage. He missed 70 days on the disabled list with forearm tightness and a back strain in 2016.

According to Oakland GM David Forst, Major League Baseball tried to persuade the insurance carrier to waive the requirements for Gray to pitch for Team USA, but the request was ultimately refused. Without coverage, Gray will be unable to participate in the competition, though Forst adds that the 27-year-old is still in perfect health as Opening Day approaches and should benefit from a slower spring training schedule without the added commitment on his plate.

Injuries complicated a down year for Gray, who pitched to a career-worst 5.69 ERA, 3.2 BB/9 and 7.2 SO/9 rate through 117 innings in 2016. His 1.4 HR/9 and 17.8% HR/FB rates suggested that he felt the effects of the home run spike more than most, capping a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star campaign during 2015.

While Gray works up to a healthy and productive start to the 2017 season, the Athletics will still see two players on WBC rosters next month: right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla, who is scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic, and fellow righty John Axford, for Team Canada.

Report: Josh Hamilton likely to undergo another knee surgery

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 24:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers in the dugout before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 24, 2015 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
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Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton is scheduled for another knee exam on Monday, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hamilton left camp last week after feeling some pain in his left knee and received a PRP injection to alleviate the symptoms. Wilson notes that both Dr. Walt Lowe and Rangers’ assistant general manager Mike Daly noticed little improvement in the days following the injection.

More drastic measures could be necessary if the 35-year-old intends to return to the field this year. MLB.com’s TR Sullivan adds that the Rangers are considering arthroscopic surgery for Hamilton, which would set him back at least 4-6 weeks and eliminate any real chance of his making the Opening Day roster in April. Until they see the results of the surgery, however, the Rangers won’t rule out Hamilton’s potential return to the big leagues in 2017.

Hamilton is looking at his third major procedure since the end of the 2015 season. He missed all of the Rangers’ 2016 campaign after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last spring and has not seen a full workload in the majors since his 2013 run with the Angels. Should he make a full recovery this season, he figures to see some time at first base/DH or the corner outfield.