Lee takes a simulated step toward return

Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)

Cliff Lee took another step toward returning to the mound Friday afternoon by throwing a simulated game to a three-man lineup in an empty Citizens Bank Park.

Facing teammates Tony Gwynn Jr., Cesar Hernandez and Ronny Cedeno, Lee threw 20 pitches, took a break and threw 20 more in what amounted to a two-inning simulation. It was the first time he had thrown to hitters since he was shut down by a strained left elbow following his May 18 start against Cincinnati.

“Forty pitches to hitters and I felt good,” Lee said. “I threw two different 20-pitch innings. It was fine. I could have kept going. Obviously, stamina-wise I could throw 40 pitches easy. It's not a problem. I've been running and lifting weights and staying in shape like that. So the stamina I don't have a problem with.”

The next step for Lee will be another simulated game “within the next three days or so,” according to manager Ryne Sandberg. If all goes well in that simulation, Lee would likely be ready for a minor-league rehab outing.

“Probably of some kind, whether it’s three innings or five innings,” Sandberg said. “I would say so and that has been talked about and that’s kind of the consensus to have a rehab of some sort.”

The question becomes whether it will be one rehab start or more. If it’s only one, Lee figures to return at some point during the Phillies’ final homestand before the all-star break. In that scenario, he could make two starts before the break. Sandberg, however, did not discount that Lee could require a second rehab start.