FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ryne Sandberg isn’t ready to name his opening day starter yet.
“I’m probably a couple of days away from that decision,” the Phillies manager said Saturday.
You can bet your lunch money that when Sandberg makes up his mind, he will be giving the ball to Cliff Lee on March 31 in Arlington, Texas.
In fact, Sandberg probably already knows that Lee will be his man. He just hasn’t publicly said so.
Lee continued his excellent spring with another strong outing Saturday night. The 35-year-old lefty held a rugged Boston Red Sox lineup to three hits over five shutout innings. Lee walked one and struck out three. His spring totals after four starts: 13 2/3 innings, 11 hits, 4 earned runs, 2 walks, 13 strikeouts.
He’s ready to be the Phillies' opening day starter.
Lee has started just once on opening day -- in 1999 for the Indians.
Would it mean something to him to get the nod from Sandberg?
“Yeah, sure, why not?” Lee said in his typical understated way. “I can’t really comment on that until he makes the announcement, but it means they feel like you’re giving them a good chance to win. If I happen to be the guy, I’d be honored to take the ball on the first day and try to go out there and give us a chance to win.”
Cole Hamels started on opening day for the Phillies last year and he would have been a candidate for the job this year, but he is expected to miss most of the month of April after being set back by shoulder tendinitis.
“Considering Cole’s not going to be ready, I would expect to be the guy,” Lee said. “But A.J. Burnett could also be the guy. It doesn’t really matter, to be honest with you. Obviously once we get going we’re all going to pitch every five days.”
The Phillies need Lee and Burnett to combine for over 400 innings and Hamels to make all his starts once he’s ready if they’re going to contend this season. Lee knows the importance that Hamels has to the team and he’s confident his fellow lefty will make it back healthy.
“Yeah, I think so,” Lee said. “Talking to him, he threw a bullpen the other day, I watched part of it and he looked good and felt good the next day. That’s a good sign.
“We all have to come up big -- A.J., Cole, [Roberto] Hernandez, [Kyle] Kendrick -- we all have to pitch well, and we have to hit and play good defense, too.”
Lee figures to have two more starts before the regular season.
He threw 75 pitches in five innings Saturday night and used his breaking ball and changeup as effective complements to his fastball. Lee has a tendency to get swept up in fastball momentum and fails to offset the pitch with soft stuff. Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure have reminded him to mix his pitches more and he’s done that this spring.
“I felt good,” Lee said. “I felt strong. I used all my pitches and I felt like I could have kept going and that’s a good sign.”
The Phillies won, 4-1. Marlon Byrd had two hits and two RBIs. Domonic Brown struck out three times.
Ben Revere had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs. In center field, he dropped a ball at the wall behind Lee. It was ruled a double for Dustin Pedroia.
Bobby Abreu doubled off Edwin Mujica.
The Phillies have won three of their last four games and are 5-11-2. They have played five straight errorless games.
Sean O’Sullivan starts for the Phillies against the Pirates in Clearwater on Sunday afternoon.
Cliff Lee (right) celebrates with catcher Wil Nieves after finishing off his fifth and final scoreless frame in the Phillies' 4-1 win over the Red Sox. (USA Today Images)