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Phillies Notebook: Phillies' Lee: Surgery would end season, possibly career

Lefthander Cliff Lee, who felt pain in his pitching elbow after his first exhibition start, is waiting for second opinion

Cliff Lee. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Lee. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla. - About an hour before the Phillies took the field in Sarasota yesterday afternoon, and about 24 hours before he was originally scheduled to be warming up in the bullpen at Bright House Field, in preparation for his second spring training game, Cliff Lee wore street clothes as he walked out of the clubhouse.

Lee was finished for the day. His work was limited.

For the second straight day, he did not throw a baseball.

"Tomorrow," he said before getting in his car and calling it a day.

Lee can only hope to receive some good news when he returns to the Carpenter Complex this morning. A day after having his ailing left elbow examined by Phillies team doctor David Ciccotti and shot with an MRI machine, Lee was awaiting a second opinion from renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

Lee, 36, was also aware that one scenario - surgery - might mean the end of his career.

"It'd be 6-to-8 months out," Lee said. "So, basically, if I have surgery this season will be done, possibly my career, I guess. I don't know. We'll have to see."

It was a grim outlook on his current, uncertain status. But Lee cannot ignore reality after battling elbow issues for the last 10 months.

After making just 13 starts in 2014, missing the season's final 2 months, and then resting and rehabbing his $120 million arm all winter, Lee felt pain in his elbow on Friday, a day after pitching in his first Grapefruit League game of the spring.

He had his next scheduled start (today) scratched. He hopes to resume a throwing program instead.

As he stood at his locker stall yesterday morning, Lee said Friday had been the first time he had felt the pain in his elbow "in months."

"It was really mild, but, it's just concerning because I knew what it turned into last year," Lee said, "and I just wanted to be open, I wasn't trying to hide anything. I truly felt nothing for months and then all of a sudden there it is after the first time I pitch in a game. I was open and honest with our trainers and hoped to nip it in the bud as quick as we can and hope that it's just a little twinge or something from really cranking it up the first time in a while.

"It's frustrating. There's still a possibility it's scar tissue and it's normal, but there's also the possibility it's coming back and that's very frustrating. I just know I did everything to prevent it. That's really all I could do so there's nothing I look back and say, I should have done this, I should have done that . . . So long as I'm satisfied with how I prepared there's nothing more I can do."

Lee can't help but feel helpless.

He entered camp feeling strong and confident. He estimated he threw about 15 bullpen sessions beginning in December in preparation for camp.

With each progression this spring - more bullpen sessions, pitching to hitters, appearing in his first game since July - Lee used the same word to describe his health: normal.

But, unfortunately for the pitcher, and the Phillies, who had hoped to be a surprise contender with him or, perhaps more realistically, better equipped to trade him to expedite the rebuild before the July 31 trade deadline, this is the new normal.

Lee has acute pain in his left elbow, just like he had throughout the 2014 season.

And now he's just 6 months away from his 37th birthday. And now he's not even sure he'll be able to get on the mound for the final season of a 5-year, $120 million contract he signed before the 2011 season.

When asked if his current status could have been avoided with a surgical procedure last year, Lee reiterated the words of general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. a day earlier. Three different doctors were consulted - Ciccotti, Andrews and Dr. David Altchek - and all were in agreement that rest and rehab were the best courses of action for his flexor pronator strain.

"We had Ciccotti, Altchek and Andrews, all three are the best in that area, and they all said last year it's in the upper 90s percent chance it'll heal just fine with rest, and like 3 percent chance you might need surgery," Lee said. "Obviously you're going to take your chances on rest and rehab, and that's what we did. So potentially I'm the 3 percent that needs surgery. And potentially it's scar tissue breaking up and it's normal. But I think it's early to know which one it is."

Lee should have a better idea when he returns to Bright House Field today.

The Phillies still owe the former Cy Young Award winner a minimum of $37.5 in the next two seasons. Lee is set to earn $25 million this season (only Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander will make more) and has a $12.5 million buyout for 2016.