CLEARWATER, Fla. — Cliff Lee will start March 31 at Globe Life Park opposite the Texas Rangers and Yu Darvish. It is just the second opening-day nod for Lee, a 35-year-old lefthanded model of consistency.
"I'm ready to go," Lee said. "It's coming on us pretty quick."
From the moment Cole Hamels announced that biceps tendinitis would delay his season, this was assumed. Lee last started an opening day in 2009 while with Cleveland. That game, coincidentally, was at Texas. The Rangers shelled the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner for seven runs in five innings.
"I remember the first inning [Ian] Kinsler hit a ball off my wrist," Lee said. "I definitely remember it. It wasn't my best performance. It wasn't my best performance, but I kept pitching."
That is ancient history for these Phillies.
"Easy call," Sandberg said. "Easy call based on everything. Obvious reasons. Last year, he was an all star. The way he's pitching this spring. Easy call."
The rest of the rotation is less certain. The two pitchers who will follow Lee — A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick — were relegated Monday to throwing at inside batting cages because of rain that canceled the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration at Bright House Field.
Sandberg did not name Roberto Hernandez his fourth starter, but the righthander is likely to start the team's fourth game, which doubles as Wrigley Field's 100th home opener. The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 14. They have not yet determined whether a four- or five-man rotation is optimal for the first two weeks.
"It's right at 50-50," pitching coach Bob McClure said. "It's just a thought. We have guys who are building up along with other guys. We'll just see how health-wise we come out of this and go from there."
There does not appear to be any harm in employing a four-man rotation.
"With the off days, if you're pitching on your fifth day, that's not pushing them," McClure said. "No one is going to pitch on their fourth day. If they have bad weather, they might pitch on the sixth day. You're not really pushing anything."
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