Little doubt Lee will start Phillies opener

Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Cliff Lee is about to begin his 13th season in the major leagues. He has won the Cy Young Award, has pitched in the World Series twice, and has won 17 games or more three times. But he has made just one start on an opening day. It did not go well.

On April 6, 2009, Lee lasted just five innings for the Cleveland Indians in a 9-1 loss to the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, giving up seven earned runs and 10 hits. Five years later, he's likely to get another shot in the same situation against the same team in the same ballpark.

With Cole Hamels still recovering from shoulder fatigue, Lee is the logical choice to start for the Phillies on opening day - in Arlington, against the Rangers - on March 31. Manager Ryne Sandberg said Saturday that he was still "a couple of days away" from announcing his decision, but he left little doubt that Lee would get the nod.

"When Cliff's on the mound and pitching that day, it raises everybody's expectations for the 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 other guys going out there and giving a quality start and having the momentum that might have started with that first pitcher, who's the so-called ace of the staff."

Lee was in midseason form Saturday night here at JetBlue Park against the Boston Red Sox, allowing three hits and striking out three over five shutout innings in a 4-1 Phillies victory. He threw 75 pitches and said he felt strong enough to have thrown more.

"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 said. "Considering Cole's not going to be ready, I would expect to be the guy. But A.J. Burnett's a guy who can do that easily. It doesn't really matter to me, honestly. Once we get going, we're all going to pitch every five days."


Adams closer to return

Reliever Mike Adams threw a live bullpen session Saturday, his second of the spring, and is optimistic he'll pitch in his first game Wednesday.

"That was probably the best I've thrown to this day," said Adams, who appeared in just 28 games last season before undergoing shoulder surgery in late July. "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."

Adams faced minor-leaguers Jim Murphy and Brock Stassi at Bright House Field in Clearwater. Sandberg watched the session and said he liked the velocity and location of Adams' pitches, though a small problem did arise. Sandberg stood so close to the netting behind the batter's box that a foul ball hit him in the face, opening a gash above his right eye.

"That's one thing I didn't like," he said.


Extra bases

Ethan Martin is still at least a week away from another evaluation of his injured right shoulder, Sandberg said. Martin strained the shoulder's capsule earlier this month. . . . Sean O'Sullivan will start Sunday against the Pirates. Kyle Kendrick will start Monday against the Orioles. . . . Mike Schmidt, who will join the TV broadcast team for all 13 Sunday home games this season, is scheduled to speak to reporters Sunday morning in Clearwater.