Mariner Cliff Lee is optimistic, but cautious, after throwing with no pain
Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee, on the mend with an abdominal strain, said he felt no discomfort while throwing Wednesday. Lee won't likely be ready to pitch in a game until May.
Seattle Times staff columnist
PEORIA, Ariz. — On the mound, in the World Series last season, Cliff Lee looked as relaxed as a dad playing catch with his kid.
At Yankee Stadium, pitching the most important game of his career, Lee looked at home.
And, after his pristine win for the Phillies in the first game against New York, when asked about how relaxed he seemed, Lee simply said he was a pitcher and that pitching is what he loves. Why should he be nervous doing what he loves?
Five months later, on a back field at the Peoria Sports Complex Wednesday morning, Lee looked a long way from Yankee Stadium.
For the first time since he strained an abdominal muscle in a Cactus League game 16 days ago, Lee felt no discomfort when he threw during an optimistic, but brief and cautious, workout.
"It felt good," he said. "Obviously it was pretty light, but I'm pleased with the way I feel today. It's definitely a step forward."
After he still felt some discomfort last week, the Mariners' staff decided to shut Lee down for five days, but Wednesday he started at 10:15 a.m., throwing from one knee to Lee Tinsley, who was standing about 50 feet away.
Tinsley slowly backed up, then, after three minutes from his knee, Lee threw for another three minutes standing.
"The two times I threw before, when I threw I felt it a little bit," Lee said. "Nothing like I felt initially, but it was still there a little bit when I was stretching the next couple of days. But the past few days I can't hardly feel anything.
"I've slowly been getting better, but it's a strange injury. It's a you-don't-know-how-you-feel-until-you-try-it deal and I'm pleased with how I felt today. It's a step forward."
Still, this is Lee's time of year and he remains a pitcher whose stomach won't let him do what he wants to do.
"I'm not happy about being hurt and going to start (the season) on the DL," he said. "This is my job and I want to do my job. Injuries are part of the job sometimes, and you've got to try and make the best of it and get back as soon as you can. Be smart and do everything I can to get back."
There's no rushing this injury. Lee probably won't be able to pitch for the Mariners until sometime in May, an omen as dark for the Mariners as winter.
Lee is the key to this season. The Mariners need him to make 25 to 30 starts. With him in the rotation every fifth day, everything is possible. There isn't a better 1-2 punch in the game than Felix Hernandez and Lee.
Without him, the roster's weaknesses are exposed. The Mariners' season is more problematic.
Lee's injury has jumbled the rotation. After sending Luke French to the minors, the team opened the possibility that it might be in the market for a pitcher not named Jarrod Washburn.
Early Wednesday, manager Don Wakamatsu said he will open the season with Hernandez starting in Oakland, followed by Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Jason Vargas and Doug Fister.
"That's as we speak," he said, adding, "so much revolves around Lee."
In the meantime, former Cy Young Award winner Lee, in the final year of his contract, sees the calendar and fights the urge to rush back.
"My arm feels good. My legs feel good," he said. "Arm-wise I feel like I can let it go. And I can. But I'm afraid that it's going to set me back, so I've got to kind of pull the reins back.
"This is the third time I've had this deal, and I have to make sure I don't try to do something too quick or don't try to overdo it too soon and have a setback. I don't really want to look that far down the road. I can take care of today, and that's where I am right now."
At a time of the year when patience is a luxury baseball players can't afford, it is all Cliff Lee has. He takes small steps every day, getting ready for a season that won't begin, for him, for at least another month.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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