Aside from an increased focus on strengthening and loosening his elbow before each outing, Cliff Lee says he does not think about the injury that cost him 2/3rds of last season. And if his Grapefruit League debut is any indication, he doesn't need to worry. In two scoreless innings against the Astros, Lee looked much sharper than he did at any point after his first stint on the disabled list last May. Lee allowed a couple of hits, one of them a blooper, and did not generate many swings and misses, but his fastball was sharp and down in the zone, and his arm remained intact.
"I don't have any uncertainty," Lee said. "I definitely have confidence and expect to go out there and be successful and I'm doing everything I can to prevent something like that from happening again. That's really all I can do. There's no worry or uncertainty or anything like that. i'm just going to go out there and be confident and expect to have success and not really even think about it, to be honest with you."
Lee threw 22 pitches, 16 of them for strikes.
"It feels normal," Lee said of his elbow. "So far so good."
Lee is well aware that the Phillies are at the beginning of what figures to be a long rebuilding process, and anybody who has watched his competitiveness on the mound understands that he would love to get another shot at the postseason, where he is 0-for-2 in World Series berths. But he realizes that the only way he can prove his health and improve his trade stock is to pitch.
"As a starting pitcher you've got to go out there and throw a hundred and some odd pitches, get deep into games to do your job effectively," Lee said. "Personally until I do that I don't think that I've proven that I can do that yet. I don't have any doubts, but still you have to build up to do that and prove you can do that. Not that I'm trying to prove anything to anyone, but I mean, I don't think anyone is going to know that I can do that until I go out there and show it."
Lee is in the final season of the five-year, $120 million contract he signed prior to the 2011 season. He has an option that vests at $27.5 million if he logs 200 innings. He says he has not thought about his future beyond this season. With most athletes, you assume that is lip service. Lee, on the other hand, might actually mean it.
"This contract is coming to an end for me, this is my last year, I have an option obviously but I don't know," Lee said. "We'll see what it brings. I definitely do not want to go out the way things happened last year, I don't want that to be the way I finish my career, but at the same time I'm not going to sit there and try to fight that to get it done. I want to go out there and have fun and feel good and make it be a positive thing instead of it be a battle physically. And that's my job to go out there everyday, to come into camp and do everything I can to put myself in the best position to be successful and go out there comfortably and pitch."
Does he still feel like he has a lot left in the tank?
"I definitely know how to pitch and know what it takes to be a successful pitcher at this level so I definitely feel like there's more that I have to offer and I'm going to continue to go out there and try to prove it every chance I get," Lee said. "Really, it's for myself more than anything, I'm not going out there trying to prove anything to anyone else, it's really more for me. I know what I can do and I know what I'm capable of. I hold myself to a pretty high standard, so if I can live up to those, then everything is going to work out just fine."
The Phillies currently trail the Astros 4-1 in the sixth inning. Phillippe Aumont gave up back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches, and Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez allowed a double and an RBI single.