The scouts were lined up a dozen wide behind the backstop at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. In case you didn’t hear, Cliff Lee returned to the Phillies’ rotation after two months on the disabled list.
Lee was the feature attraction because, if healthy, and if effective, he could zoom to the top of the list of pitchers that are available before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline.
The left-hander did not exactly drop jaws in his highly anticipated return performance. He went 5 2/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants and allowed 12 hits and six runs in a 7-4 loss (see Instant Replay).
Lee was clearly rusty. He lacked his usual pinpoint command.
“Yeah, a little bit,” the pitcher said after the game. “I wasn’t locating that well. I was behind in the count more than I’d like to be. It was good to be back, but I would have liked the results to be better.”
Lee had not pitched in a big-league game since he went down with an elbow strain on May 18. He made three minor-league rehab starts before the Phillies turned him loose Monday night.
“I would say he was rusty,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “It was evident in the first inning with him going 2-0 on the first couple of batters. When he threw strikes he wasn’t on the corner like he usually is and balls were over the plate.
“Looking at the swings, you usually don’t see balls getting squared up that often when he’s on the corners.
“The velocity was fine. That might improve a little bit along with the command with more outings underneath him.”
Lee’s fastball has been better. He threw nine fastballs in the first inning. Eight registered 90 mph on the stadium radar gun and one reached 91 mph. His fastball sat at about 89 mph the rest of his outing. Truth be told, Lee delivered more gas during his postgame interview than he did on the mound.
Most importantly, Lee said he felt healthy.
“I felt good physically,” he said. “I just wasn’t locating as well as I would have liked.
“But they earned it as well. They got 12 hits off me. You have to give them credit.”
Lee faced 28 batters and threw first-pitch strikes just 13 times. That’s not him.
Scouts from a number of contending teams, including the Blue Jays, Pirates, Royals, Mariners, Tigers, Orioles, Giants and Angels were on hand for Lee’s start. You can bet other teams were charting pitches from the television broadcast. (There’s more than one way to scout a player.)
“I didn’t know how many scouts were here and I didn’t care,” Lee said. “My goal is to give the team a chance to win and obviously I didn’t do that.”
Some scouts may have been in attendance to get a peek at some of the Phillies' available relievers. Very available lefty Antonio Bastardo pitched a scoreless seventh inning and struck out two batters. The Royals and Tigers were specifically on hand to check out Phillies relievers, a source said, and Bastardo’s appearance had the look of a showcase.
Jonathan Papelbon, available and wishing out loud for relocation, did not pitch. Closer-needy teams are watching him.
Papelbon was not needed because Lee gave up a 4-3 lead in the sixth inning and the Phillies, who had 14 singles and zero extra-base hits (see story), couldn’t get it back. The sixth inning started with a single by Michael Morse and a two-run homer by Adam Duvall. Lee allowed a two-out double to pinch-hitter Joaquin Arias and an RBI single to Hunter Pence later in the inning and was gone.
“It’s good to have the first one out of the way,” he said. “I’ll definitely have to make some adjustments before my next start.”
That will come Saturday night against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. That will be Lee’s last start before the trade deadline, which arrives a week from Thursday at 4 p.m. Lee is scheduled to pitch that night in Washington.
Will he make that start or will he be with another team by then? Tough to say. Lee’s performance Monday night was not enticing. On top of that, it’s tough for scouts to get a complete read on his health in two starts. Taking on Lee comes with risk because he is owed $37.5 million after this season and will cost a team prospects. If Lee remains with the Phillies beyond the non-waiver trade deadline, he could still be moved in a waiver deal in August. That would give teams more time to gauge his health and effectiveness.
Lee, who turns 36 next month, has been traded twice in July in his career, so he is unfazed by the glare of this trade deadline.
“I couldn’t care less about the scouts in the stands or trade rumors or anything like that,” he said. “It’s not my job to make trades and acquire players. That’s their job upstairs. Our job as players is to go out and compete and try to win and it’s really that simple. I can’t get caught up in trades and speculation. I’m a Phillie and I want this team to win.”