Cliff Lee scratched from Saturday start with 'stiff neck'

DETROIT — The true intentions of any abrupt scratch, like the "stiff neck" that will sideline Cliff Lee from his scheduled start Saturday, are questioned at this time of year. The trade deadline is nearing. Lee is the finest pitching commodity available — that is, if he is on the trade block.

Regardless, the lefthander will not be pitching for the Phillies on Saturday. Raul Valdes will shift from the bullpen to make the emergency start. The decision was announced Friday by a team official at 7:37 p.m.

Lee did not display any hint of the ailment before Friday's game. He jovially talked with his friend, Jonathan Papelbon. He participated in pregame practice.

His absence comes as reported a late push by numerous teams to acquire Lee. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has insisted for weeks that he would not trade Lee. He said his team's best shot at contention in 2014 was with Lee and Cole Hamels atop the rotation.

Amaro was not available for comment during Friday's game.

Lee has a 6.05 ERA in his last three starts with eight home runs allowed. Before that, his ERA was 2.59 and one of the best in the National League.

Any Lee trade would be complicated because the Phillies would prefer to not assume any of the remaining $70 million on his contract. They would demand a bounty of top prospects in addition to the salary relief. The odds of another team agreeing to both of those stipulations is unlikely.

In addition, Lee has a no-trade clause that allows him to block a deal to 21 teams. A source with knowledge of Lee's thinking said the pitcher could be willing to waive it for a trade to a contending team.

Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.