ATLANTA - Cliff Lee understands the hazards of an elbow injury, the strain that 33,000 pitches in the majors applies to a 35-year-old ligament. But he threw 76 pain-free pitches in a Florida State League game earlier this week, and his start Monday at Citizens Bank Park will come two months after his last.
He does not want to hear about restrictions.
"As many as they will let me throw," Lee said, when asked about his plans. "I'm probably not going to want to come out when I come out. I don't know the exact number, but I feel strong and I feel good and I'm ready to try to help the team win."
The Phillies would not mind that, because it would help Lee's trade value, which must be reestablished after a left-elbow strain muddled his status as one of the game's most durable arms. He said no sensation lingered in his elbow during a dismal outing Monday for single-A Clearwater in which he allowed eight runs (three earned) on eight hits and a walk.
"Everything happened," he said, with a chuckle. "Weird game."
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg spoke to Lee about the start.
"He said, 'There's no rhyme or reason about it,' " Sandberg said. "I just mentioned I've seen that before. You try to set up a hitter, but at those levels they just see it and hit it. Back to the basics of baseball, which is sometimes good."
The Phillies are under no obligation to trade Lee by July 31. He will start two games before the deadline, which may not be enough to fetch a substantial package from another team. The Phillies could attempt a waiver deal in August or wait until the winter.
Lee is aware of the trade chatter.
"Whatever," he said. "It is what it is. It's out of my control."
Is he eager to be moved?
"No," Lee said. "I'm eager to just get back on the mound and help the team win. I've been out for two months now and I'm ready to just do my job."
Carlos Ruiz (concussion) caught five innings Thursday for single-A Clearwater and played Friday as the designated hitter. He will be activated during the next homestand, which begins Monday.
Sandberg estimated Ruiz will play five or six minor-league rehab games. With built-in days of rest, a good estimate for his return is Friday against Arizona. Ruiz has not played since June 26.
Wil Nieves, the team's backup catcher, played Friday for double-A Reading. "He's real close," Sandberg said. Nieves has missed action since June 18 because of a strained right quadriceps.
Roberto Hernandez, for now, is the Phillies' fifth starter, with rookie David Buchanan slated to pitch Monday at triple-A Lehigh Valley. Both had quality starts in their last outings before the break. The alignment, of course, could be temporary given the myriad trade possibilities. "More of the veteran- guy scenario for right now," Sandberg said. . . . Friday's lineup was posted without a shortstop because Jimmy Rollins suffered a back spasm, but the shortstop was deemed fine after a workout.