Left-hander Cliff Lee threw a three-inning simulated game against teammates today, will throw another Tuesday and then make a minor league start on April 25 as the Seattle Mariners get him ready to pitch again.
"Right now, we're tentatively looking at him returning to us with a May 1 or May 2 start," manager Don Wakamatsu said.
Lee, a former Cy Young Award winner, had not thrown to hitters since March 15, when he strained an abdominal muscle. Throwing without pain today, he said he felt in mid-season shape while throwing 51 pitches.
"Now it's a matter of building to 100 pitches," Lee said. "It was good to face hitters again. I feel as good as I can feel."
Lee face Adam Moore, Matt Tuiasosopo and Eric Byrnes - all right-handed hitters - and threw about 50 pitches.
General manager Jack Zduriencik was among the observers this afternoon, and he came away delighted with what he saw.
"You fast forward, it's exciting to think of Felix (Hernandez) starting on a Friday night and Cliff starting the Saturday game," Zduriencik said. "This was a big positive step. You have to get him ready for games, you have to let him pitch to do that."
Manager Wakamatsu liked what he saw, too.
"Cliff will throw 65 pitches on Tuesday, then we'll try to get him up to 85 pitches in a rehab start," Wakamatsu said.
The Mariners have not heard from MLB since Lee's appeal of a five-game suspension, and probably won't until Monday. It's possible that after Lee's minor league start - the team isn't certain where that will be yet - he could be activated from the disabled list the next day, serve his suspension and then make his first start for Seattle.
On April 25, Tacoma will be at home - a logical place for Lee to start.
Utilityman Jack Hannahan began his minor league rehabilitation assignment by reporting to Tacoma today, and will play his way back into game shape there - then replace either Matt Tuiasosopo or Eric Byrnes on the roster.
"We think Jack will need 50 at-bats to be where he would have been coming out of spring training healthy," Wakamatsu said. "Because of the nature of his injury (groin strain), we're going to limit him to playing first base and designated hitter at first."