ATLANTA -- The market for starting pitchers will get a little more interesting on Monday night.
Actually it could get a lot more interesting if Cliff Lee pitches well.
The left-hander will come off the disabled list to face the San Francisco Giants in the opener of a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. Lee has not started in the majors since May 18. He went on the disabled list two days later with a strained flexor-pronator tendon in his elbow.
At the time of the injury, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was hopeful that Lee would miss just a few weeks. It turned out to be two months.
“Yeah, it did [take longer than expected],” Amaro said. “But we had to be cautious with him. We can't pitch him when he isn't ready to pitch."
Lee made three minor-league rehab starts and though the last one -- Monday night in Clearwater -- produced poor results, the pitcher appears to be healthy.
“I feel strong and I feel good and I’m ready to try to help the team win,” Lee said.
Lee reached 76 pitches last Monday night. He gave up eight hits and eight runs (five were unearned) in that game. Lee brushed off the results, saying, “Everything happened. Weird game.” Amaro was also unfazed by the results and expects to see a better Lee on Monday night.
“I don't think he was all that enthusiastic -- he doesn't see pitching in rehab games as something that's necessarily beneficial other than to get his work in,” Amaro said. “So I think he'll pitch fine. If he's healthy, he'll pitch fine."
The Phillies are in full sell mode, and Lee is an attractive potential pickup for a contending team. However, two months on the DL right before the July 31 trade deadline doesn’t help Lee’s trade value. He will have just two starts to audition for contending clubs who must weigh his health and effectiveness against the $37.5 million that he is guaranteed after this season.
If Lee continues to be healthy and effective, he will join Tampa Bay’s David Price as the top pitchers available for trade.
There is likely to be a scouts’ convention behind the backstop at Citizens Bank Park when Lee takes the mound.
In fact, two teams looking for starting pitching -- the Yankees and Blue Jays -- scouted Lee’s last rehab start in Clearwater.
Amaro acknowledged that Citizens Bank Park could be a popular destination for scouts Monday night.
"I would think, but I do not know,” he said. “I don't know what the scout schedule is for his start."
One scout who was at Sunday’s game in Atlanta laughed as he predicted, “There will be 29 scouts at that game.”
Lee, who turns 36 next month, has been down this road before. He’s been traded to contenders in July as a hired gun twice in his career. He is unfazed by the time of the year and the attention he will draw.
“Whatever,” he said on Friday. “I’m just ready to try to help the team win. It is what it is. It’s out of my control.
“I know it’s the trade deadline and I know we haven’t played well this year and potentially guys could get traded and I’m obviously one of those guys. I don’t know what to think other than that. Right now I’m a Phillie and I’m going to try to help this team win. Hopefully we can turn it around and get on a stretch and get up close to the trade deadline and next thing you know we’re closer to being back in it and it’s not an issue. But the next couple of weeks we’ll be able to tell.”
Teammate Jonathan Papelbon has expressed his eagerness to be traded to a contender. Is Lee eager to move?
“No,” he said. “I’m eager to just get back on the mound and help the team win. I’ve been out for two months now and I’m ready to just do my job.”
Lee, who is 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts this season, will pitch against Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, who hails from Chester County.
Lee has dominated the Giants in six career starts against them. In 51 innings, he has allowed just five earned runs (0.88 ERA) while striking out 42 and walking four.