KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Cliff Lee's first start since July took all of 20 minutes. The plan was for him to handle two innings, and he did so using only 22 pitches.
A mishmash of scouts sat in the green seats behind home plate at Osceola County Stadium and watched one of the Phillies' potential trade chips throw without issue. Suitors for Lee will wait for a much larger sample size before moving on a deal, but Thursday signified a solid first outing of the spring for the 36-year-old lefthander.
Lee, who relied on his fastball while mixing in a couple of cutters and a curveball, said he doesn't have any reservations about his elbow. But even he knows it's too early to declare he has 100 percent proved his health.
"As a starting pitcher you've got to go out there and throw 100-and-some odd pitches and get deep into games to do your job effectively," he said after allowing two hits and no runs against the Houston Astros in Grapefruit League play. "Personally, I feel like until I do that I haven't really proved that I'm able to do it yet.
"I don't have any doubts, but still you've got to build up to that and prove that you're able to do that before - not that I'm trying to prove anything to anyone - but I mean, I don't think anyone's going to know that I'm able to do that until I go out there and show it."
Back on a normal five-day starting pitcher's program, Lee is in line to pitch again Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater. His second start will likely last three innings as he continues to build arm strength for the regular season. He faced seven batters Thursday and induced four ground balls.
Lee's fastball, according to one scout in attendance, hovered around 87 and 88 m.p.h., not far off from Lee's typical velocity. Like many other spring training sites, the Astros' spring home does not post radar gun readings on the scoreboard.
Sixteen of Lee's pitches were strikes.
"My only thing I'm basically looking for is [from] a health standpoint," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said. "He pitched well and felt fine, so I'm encouraged by that."
Pitching on the last guaranteed season of his contract, Lee is owed $25 million in base salary this year. His contract includes a $12.5 million buyout for 2016. A $27.5 million option for 2016 vests with 200 innings pitched this season.
Lee could be pitching on the last contract of his baseball career, though the former Cy Young Award winner shrugged and was understandably noncommittal when asked Thursday about that possibility. He noted he does not want to go out the way he did last summer, when an elbow strain cost him the final two months of the season.
"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," he said. "Really, it's for myself as much as anything. I'm not going out there to try 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 pretty high standards, so if I can live up to those then everything's going to work out just fine."