ATLANTA -- Cliff Lee still can’t fully explain what happened when he gave up eight hits (four for extra bases) and eight runs in 4 1/3 innings in his final minor-league rehab start Monday night in Clearwater.
“Everything happened,” he said with a chuckle late Friday afternoon. “Weird game. There was no rhyme or reason for anything. They swung the bat and hit a lot of balls.”
Five of the runs Lee allowed in the outing against the Cardinals' Florida State League club were unearned after a costly error by Clearwater shortstop J.P. Crawford.
The important result of the start wasn’t that Lee was knocked around. It was that he came away feeling good. He has spent two months on the disabled list recovering from an elbow strain. He is healthy and ready to go now and will return to the Phillies’ rotation Monday night against the San Francisco Giants at Citizens Bank Park. Chester County's Ryan Vogelsong will start for the Giants.
“I feel strong and I feel good and I’m ready to try to help the team win,” Lee said.
The left-hander would have preferred to stay on his fifth day and pitch Saturday.
“They’re just trying to be cautious, give me a couple of extra days,” Lee said.
Manager Ryne Sandberg said it made sense to schedule Lee on Monday so every starter would get equal rest coming back from the all-star break.
Lee turns 36 next month. He’s been around for a while. He knows the lay of the land at this time of year. There could be a convention of scouts behind the backstop in Philadelphia on Monday night. The Phillies are in sell mode and Lee is a trade chip. He would have been an outstanding trade chip hadn’t he gotten hurt in May. Now, rival teams may be leery to trade for a pitcher coming off an elbow injury, especially one who is guaranteed $37.5 million after this season.
Lee will have two starts before the trade deadline. If teams need more time to evaluate him and his health, he could stay beyond July 31 and go in a waiver deal.
Or he could be moved in the offseason.
Or he could stay into next season.
There are a lot of balls in the air, a lot of uncertainty at this time of the year.
One thing seems certain: The Phillies won’t give Lee away. They are looking for a strong return for him, regardless of when a deal is made.
Lee is ready for the glare of the trade deadline.
“Whatever,” he said with a shrug. “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.”