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3/15/2014 10:10 P.M. ET

Sandberg hopes to copy Red Sox path to postseason

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At this time last year, the Red Sox were the ones preparing to put an overwhelmingly disappointing season behind them. Boston was coming off a last-place finish in the American League East in 2012 when the Sox went just 69-93 -- their worst record since 1965.

Just a little more than seven months later, the Red Sox celebrated their third World Series title in the last 10 seasons.

It's with that in mind that Phillies skipper Ryne Sandberg was looking at Saturday night's Grapefruit League opponent as an inspiration for his own club. Philadelphia has missed the postseason each of the last two seasons, after winning the National League East five straight years from 2007-11. But Sandberg is hoping to guide the club back to the playoffs in his first full season at the helm.

"It can happen that quickly with some new faces, with guys having good years, with some surprise years from guys," Sandberg said. "And then getting on a roll to get the magical wins or luck games, whatever you want to call them. All those things can come together quickly."

For the defending World Series champion Red Sox, improved pitching and health keyed a 28-win improvement from 2012 to '13. Like the Phillies are hoping to do this season, the Red Sox made their turnaround while mostly keeping together their long-time core players.

"A season like they had," Sandberg said, "it makes a lot of teams optimistic, including ourselves."

Lee aces another test in bid for Opening Day

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Though manager Ryne Sandberg hasn't gone as far as to officially declare Cliff Lee the Phillies' Opening Day starter, the veteran left-hander solidified his already strong case to receive that nod on Saturday night against the Red Sox, when he turned in his best outing of the spring against the defending champions.

Lee, making his fourth Grapefruit League start, tossed five shutout innings in a 4-1 victory over the Red Sox at JetBlue Park, easily surpassing his previous long this spring of 3 2/3 innings. He limited Boston to just three hits in the process, while striking out three and walking one.

"I felt good. I felt like I could keep going, too," Lee said. "At this point in spring, to throw all my pitches for strikes and feel strong at the end like I could keep going, is definitely a good thing. It makes me feel good about where I'm at and moving forward."

With Cole Hamels unavailable to start the season, Lee seems to be the obvious choice to get the call for Philadelphia's March 31 opener in Arlington against the Rangers. Sandberg said prior to Saturday's game that he's still "a couple days" away from making that decision, but at the same time praised Lee for his ability to set the tone for the rest of the staff.

"When Cliff's on the mound and pitching that day, it raises everyone's expectations to win that baseball game," Sandberg said. "It can have a ripple effect. I think, just like hitting, pitching can be contagious. Wins create momentum and then it's about the other guys going out there and giving us a quality start."

As for Lee, an Opening Day start this season would be just the second of his career. The other came in 2009 with the Indians, also in Arlington.

"I can't really comment on that until he makes that announcement, but yeah [if it happens] that means they feel like you're giving them a good chance to win," Lee said. "If I happen to be the guy, I'd be honored to take the ball on the first day and go out there and try to give us a chance to win."

Lee certainly stated his case for the assignment under the lights on Saturday night, retiring eight straight batters at one point, while mixing in all of his pitches throughout the night.

"Really, everything was working good," Lee said. "I was throwing curveballs for strikes early in the count, had a good changeup, throwing cutters for strikes, locating fastballs. So really everything was right where I wanted it to be."

Lee ran into some trouble in the fourth, when he allowed a leadoff double to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia and later issued a rare, two-out walk to Daniel Nava to extend the frame. Yet one batter later, with runners on the corners and two outs, Lee escaped the jam by forcing Xander Bogaerts into an inning-ending groundout.

Though Lee had thrown 65 pitches at that point -- Sandberg said prior to the game that he wanted to see Lee throw 70-75 -- the southpaw returned for one more inning. Lee needed just nine more pitches to retire the Red Sox in order, capping off his best Grapefruit League outing this year.

Adams close to return after second 'pen session

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Reliever Mike Adams moved another step closer to game action on Saturday, successfully completing his second live bullpen session.

Adams, who is continuing to recover from shoulder surgery last July 31, pitched against Minor Leaguers Jim Murphy and Brock Stassi at Bright House Field. An upbeat Adams reported no setbacks and said this is the best he's felt throughout the lengthy rehab process.

"It felt great. That went great. That was probably the best I've thrown to this day," Adams said. "Now I just have to keep building from that. I think I figured out a couple things mechanically, and that made a huge difference in how I felt and how the ball was coming out."

Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg was on hand to watch Adams' session and he seemed just as encouraged as Adams about the right-hander's performance.

"I liked his velocity, I liked his stuff," Sandberg said. "His location and command was very, very good."

It wasn't all positive for Sandberg, though.

"I was too close to the net and a foul ball came back and caught me above the eye," said Sandberg, as he lowered his sunglasses to reveal a swollen cut above his right eye. "That was the one thing I didn't like, but he looked real good."

For Adams, it was another milestone on his long road back after being limited to just 28 games -- and missing the final 92 -- in his debut season with the Phillies last year.

He posted ERAs of 1.76 and 1.47 in 2010 and '11, respectively, before posting a 3.27 mark in his first full season with the Rangers in '12. Adams then went 1-4 with a 3.96 ERA in his injury-shortened campaign last season, but is confident he's on the verge of regaining his top-end form.

"It's just a good feeling right now," Adams said. "Today was a huge confidence-booster. Not only for how I felt, but for the way everything was coming out and the way I was locating. My next one can't come fast enough."

As for when that next one will come, Adams is hoping to pitch in an actual game on Wednesday. Sandberg agreed that Adams is close to seeing game action, but added that he still needs to talk to pitching coach Bob McClure about setting an exact date.

Adams is expected to open the season on the disabled list, but the righty is hoping to return to the Phillies' bullpen in the season's opening month.

"He'd be a big piece late in the game, obviously," Sandberg said. "He's an eighth-inning type of pitcher and, what I saw today, he showed that stuff. So he'd give us a big lift for sure."

Pettibone targeting mid-April return to rotation

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Following a live bullpen session earlier this week, right-hander Jonathan Pettibone said he thinks he could potentially be ready to return by the time the Phillies need a fifth starter.

Thanks to two off-days early in the season, April 14 would be the first time the Phillies would need a fifth starter.

On Saturday, manager Ryne Sandberg expressed that same cautious optimism, though he said it's a long way from a sure thing at this point.

"He's doing fine, he's progressing real well," Sandberg said. "He could be real close to that April 14 game."

Pettibone, who suffered a setback last month when he experienced inflammation in his shoulder, is expected to see game action next week. For the time being, with both Pettibone and Cole Hamels sidelined until at least mid-April, Jeff Manship and David Buchanan appear to be leading the battle for that fifth starter role, if needed.

Paul Casella is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.