PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - The first dose of bad news the Phillies encountered since the start of spring training arrived Friday when Cliff Lee alerted the team of discomfort in his pitching elbow.
Soreness resurfaced in the same area of the arm that limited the accomplished lefthander to only 13 starts last season. An MRI exam Saturday revealed "little to no changes" from his last exam, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Sunday. Amaro described the inflammation as "very mild" but did not deny the team's concern given the flexor pronator strain that prematurely ended Lee's 2014 season.
Lee, who pitched two scoreless innings Thursday, will miss his scheduled Tuesday start. He is expected to resume his throwing program Monday or Tuesday, after the dye injected for the arthrogram has dissipated, Amaro said.
Orthopedic surgeon James Andrews will examine Lee's results for a second opinion, likely Monday or Tuesday, Amaro said. The team will proceed accordingly.
Lee, 36, entered the spring as a potentially valuable trade chip once he demonstrated his health. Sunday's news, which Amaro revealed before the team's Grapefruit League win against the Tampa Bay Rays, hurts the pitcher's stock on the trade market and in turn the Phillies' rebuilding efforts.
"If he's not able to perform for us, of course it's going to impact us," Amaro said. "Absolutely. Whether it's with us or with somebody else."
The affected area in Lee's elbow is "very, very small," according to Amaro. "But any time it's the elbow, you've got to be concerned about it," he added. There is nothing wrong with Lee's ulnar collateral ligament, the general manager said.
Andrews, Phillies team doctor Michael Ciccotti and Mets team doctor David Altchek did not recommend surgery for Lee last year based on the nature of the injury, Amaro said. Lee may decide to pitch through the discomfort. The former Cy Young Award winner is expected to address the media Monday. He was not available for comment Sunday.
"There's a couple of different things that could happen," Amaro said. "He could pitch through it and it could be scar tissue breaking up and it could be resolved. He threw the next day [after his Thursday's outing], on Friday and Saturday, and as he threw he got better.
"Typically, it's the other way around, where you start throwing and it gets progressively worse. But again, we have to be alarmed, we have to be concerned because it's the same area and he's feeling something."
Lee pitched without issue Thursday, his first outing since last July 31. It was the following day, when the pitcher went through his normal routine, when he felt something. He reported no problems throughout early spring workouts, during which he twice threw live batting practice. "Normal" has been his favorite word this spring.
In the final guaranteed season of the five-year, $120 million contract he signed in December 2010, Lee is owed $25 million in base salary for 2015 with a $12.5 million buyout for 2016. A $27.5 million option triggers if he logs 200 innings this season.
"Hopefully he'll be able to make his following start, but I'll talk with [Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure] and [manager Ryne Sandberg] and with Cliff to see how he feels moving forward to see how altered his schedule will be," Amaro said. "A lot of it will depend on how he feels once he starts throwing again."