In front of a packed house at Cheney Stadium, former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee made his final step in returning from a strained abdominal and making his much anticipated debut for the Seattle Mariners on April 30th against the Texas Rangers.
“That’s reality,” he said. “It’s time for me to prepare for the Rangers. Friday is going to be here before I know it.”
Lee pitching in a rehab start for the Tacoma Rainiers, pitched six scoreless innings allowing - just three hits - while striking out four and walking none. Of the three hits - one was a bunt single by ultra speedy lead-off hitter Peter Bourgos in the fourth inning, the other could have easily been called an error when Rainiers centerfielder lost a simple pop fly in the sun and the third was ground ball to third that Jack Hannahan made a diving stop on but couldn't make a throw on.
I don't recall one ball being hit very hard.
“I felt good," Lee said. "I was throwing strikes. I didn’t walk anybody, though I came close a couple times. But I threw strikes and forced them to swing the bat.”
Lee was typically efficient, throwing 68 pitches with 48 of them going for strikes. He came in with a pitch count of 80 to 85, but after six innings it was enough. Though Lee said if it were a normal game, he'd have been back out there.
“I definitely could have kept going,” he said. “I felt strong the whole time. It’s really more of a precautionary type deal to ease back into it. But physically, I felt like I could keep going. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
His fastball sat in the range of 88-91 mph, while his cutter was around 83-85. His changeup also had plenty of movement. About the only pitch that wasn't as crisp as he would like was his curveball.
“Everything felt comfortable,” Lee said. “My curveball wasn’t as good as I want it. But that’s not out of the ordinary. It was just one of those days where I really couldn’t throw it for a strike. But the fastball, change-up and cutter were all where they need to be."
He did throw his curveball for a strike a few times, including a nasty back door curveball to strike out Gary Patchett in the fifth inning.
But the biggest thing is that Lee felt healthy. He called the strained abdomen injury that delayed his start for the season "a non-issue."
Since suffering the injury in a spring training collision with Diamondbacks catcher Chris Snyder, Lee's recovery has been pretty uneventful with no major setbacks.
"It’s been a pretty smooth DL time," he said. "Obviously I’d have rather have it not happen at all."
So would the Mariners and their fans.
Lee will actually fly to Kansas City to meet the team so he can get on a normal regimen to prepare for his start.