7/22/2014 12:16 A.M. ET
Lee shows rust in potential showcase start
Phillies veteran has one more outing before July 31 Trade Deadline
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Cliff Lee has not stumped publicly to be traded like Phillies teammate Jonathan Papelbon, although he probably would not stand in the way of a change of scenery.
But that will be tough to do before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Lee pitched Monday for the first time since May 18 following a lengthy stint on the disabled list because of a strained left elbow. It was his first of two starts to impress scouts before the Deadline, but he allowed 12 hits, six runs, one walk and one home run and struck out three in just 5 2/3 innings in a 7-4 loss to the Giants at Citizens Bank Park.
"I don't care about the [trade] rumors," said Lee, whose 12 hits tied a career high. "It doesn't matter. My goal was to get out there and try to give the team a chance to win. Obviously, I didn't do that as well as I would have liked. But it's the first one back. I need to get back into a groove and just do that. That's where my focus is. I couldn't care less about the scouts in the stands or trade rumors or any of that. That doesn't mean anything to me."
Even if Lee dazzles in his next start Saturday against the D-backs, it is difficult to see him being moved before July 31. Teams will want to feel comfortable about Lee's performance before shipping top prospects to the Phillies and taking on some of the remaining $37.5 million on his contract following this season. (The deal jumps to $52.5 million over the next two seasons if he pitches 200 or more innings next year to automatically vest his 2016 club option.)
One solid start following an elbow injury would test even the gutsiest of general managers.
Fifteen scouts from multiple organizations (scouts spotted include those from the Blue Jays, Orioles, Pirates, Mariners, Tigers, Angels, Brewers, Royals, Giants, Rangers and D-backs) attended Lee's start, but not every scout came to see him. Some came as part of their regular coverage, while others came to see other Phillies players available before the Trade Deadline, like left-hander Antonio Bastardo, who is drawing interest from every team in need of bullpen help.
In a best-case scenario, those who came for Lee would have seen him pitch like he had in the past.
Maybe they will see that Saturday.
Lee threw first-pitch strikes to just 13 of the 28 batters he faced. Consider for a second he threw first-pitch strikes to 68.1 percent of the batters he faced since he rejoined the Phillies in 2011, according to FanGraphs. That ranked second among qualifying pitchers. His ability to pound the strike zone is why he ranked first with a 6.56 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that same span.
But Lee could not find the strike zone Monday. He threw 90 pitches, just 59 for strikes. His fastball sat in the 88-90 mph range throughout the night, which is about where it was earlier this season.
"I think I spiked four fastballs in the first inning," Lee said. "I don't know if I've ever done that. I've got to make some adjustments for the next one, but the first one is out of the way."
One scout said Lee's command and execution in the strike zone wasn't "Cliff-like," which is true. But on the bright side, he said Lee maintained his velocity throughout the 90-pitch night, which was an indication the poor results were most likely rust-related and not health-related.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg agreed.
"Rusty," he said. "It was evident right in the first inning, going 2-0 on the first couple of batters. He showed some rust there. And when he was throwing strikes, he seemed to not be on the corners. Not the command he normally has, balls were over the plate."
Lee's health is obviously important. He potentially could clear waivers next month, which would give the Phillies the ability to trade him before the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline. But if Lee doesn't clear waivers and the Phillies can't cut a deal in August, they can try to trade him again in the offseason when more than contending teams are in the market for starting pitching help.
Not that Lee is concerned about that. He has been traded four times already.
"I've never cared about that," he said. "I still don't. ... It's not my job to make trades and acquire players. We'll let them do their job upstairs. Our job as players is to go out and compete and try to win. It's really that simple to me. I'm not going to get caught up in trades and all the speculation. I'm a Phillie and I want this team to win and I'm going to do everything I can to help that happen. That's really it."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.