Lee makes final rehab start in Akron

“Clouds hung over Canal Park Friday night, sprinkling rain for the first inning and threatening to ruin an already dismal beginning to the 2007 season for Cliff Lee. Lee – an integral part of the Cleveland Indians starting rotation – was making his third and final rehab start against the Reading Phillies after suffering a strained abdominal muscle in mid-March.”

Clouds hung over Canal Park Friday night, sprinkling rain for the first inning and threatening to ruin an already dismal beginning to the 2007 season for Cliff Lee.

Lee – an integral part of the Cleveland Indians starting rotation – was making his third and final rehab start against the Reading Phillies after suffering a strained abdominal muscle in mid-March.

After Friday, all appears well. Lee went five innings, yielded just two hits – Matt Padgett’s double was a misplayed lazy fly ball by Aeros right fielder Brian Barton – and walked one batter while striking out seven. After throwing 83 pitches, the left-hander said the muscle felt fine.

It went pretty good, Lee said. I walked the leadoff guy in the fifth and that’s never good, but for the most part I was working on my pitches and trying to locate it. I was happy with the results.

Through the first four innings, Lee had good command of his pitches and threw his fastball between 88 and 91 miles per hour, topping out at 92. He threw 38 of his 55 pitches for strikes through the first four innings and cruised through a nine-pitch third inning.

I saw a pretty good fastball, Aeros manager Tim Bogar said. He located it pretty well. Admittedly, his slider wasn’t as sharp as he would have like it to have been tonight. But I think since he located it so well, he did well. I was pretty impressed with the way he threw.

Reports first stated that Lee’s injury was minor and would only take a few days of rest to heal. But he re-injured the muscle during a bullpen session the day after he originally felt discomfort in the area.

It’s been a long journey since then. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list April 1 (retroactive to March 23) and was supposed to make his first rehab start during the Aeros season-opening series against the Binghamton Mets, but all four games were postponed because of winter weather conditions. He was sent to Class A Kinston April 10, then shipped to Triple-A Buffalo for his next start 12 days later.

It was one of those things that just lingered on. It’s over with now, Lee said. Obviously, it was frustrating watching the (Indians) go out there and play without me, but it’s something you have to do when you get injured.

Assistant general manager Chris Antonetti said Lee’s rehab stint took a little longer because they wanted to make sure the muscle wasn’t re-injured.

With obliques, they tend to be tricky, Antonetti said. You have to treat it based upon symptoms. The thing you don’t want to do is have him come back too quickly where it re-aggravates and it turns into a prolonged thing.

Lee was credited with the win, which puts the Aeros in first-place in the Eastern League Southern Division.

But Lee gave Akron more than just a quality outing. Akron manager Tim Bogar was impressed with Lee’s attitude.

Whenever you get a player of his caliber down here to pitch on your team, with the way he goes about his things, these guys need to watch and learn and listen and pay attention and see how he goes about his business, Bogar said. By the time I got back to the dugout from the third base coaching box, he was already on the mound ready to pitch. That shows me a lot.

His professionalism was not lost on fellow lefty Chuck Lofgren – the Indians No. 2 prospect in the organization.

Any time a guy like Cliff Lee comes down here and pitches you get to watch the way he goes about his business and gets prepared for games mentally and physically, Lofgren said. I think it’s amazing the kind of person he is and the work ethic he has.

The only decision left to make is when Lee will start for the Indians.

Antonetti said they haven’t set a date for Lee’s return or what they will do with Fausto Carmona, Lee’s replacement, who has thrown three consecutive quality starts.

Lee targeted Thursday as his next start, which would be against Toronto.

It’s still something we’ll take some time to evaluate. There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then, Antonetti said. Now that he’s pitched healthy and successfully tonight, we’ll get together with Carl (Willis) and Eric (Wedge) and see when he can fit back into the rotation.


” #1.1362007:1363793388.jpg:SPORTS-INDIANS-CARDS-5-SL.jpg:Cliff Lee made his final rehab start at Canal Park Friday night. :Chris Lee / MCT”