A quick return to the mound was an optimistic goal for the Phillies and Cliff Lee. Placed on the disabled list last week for a strained elbow, the hope was that a few days of rest would allow the Phils' ace to begin throwing again, putting him back on the field just after his DL stint expired.
But it doesn't appear as if the optimistic timetable will be the correct one.
Cliff Lee said it could be a little while before he returns to action, after Monday's 9-0 win over the Rockies. Lee met with team doctors before Sunday's game, and all decided it would be prudent not to rush the left-hander back (quotes per Philly.com's Marc Narducci).
"They decided to let me wait [until] I have no symptoms to start throwing," Lee said. "I pretty much agree with that and it makes sense.
"If I felt good today it would be another week or so and hopefully I could come back after the 15 days is up," Lee added. "But now it looks like it is going to be longer than that."
Coming into the season, the strength of the Phillies was supposed to be their starting rotation. However, like every other aspect of the team this year, the starters have been inconsistent, Lee included. And now, it's clear there will not be quick return.
So far this year, Phils starters are 12-18 with a 3.89 ERA, ranking 12th out of 15 National League teams. They've pitched 293.2 innings this year, 13th in the NL, and opposing batters are hitting .267 against the Phils' starting staff, 14th in the league. Their main problem has been the bases on balls, posting a league-worst WHIP of 1.40, walking 2.94 batters per nine innings, 12th in the NL.
They've been hurt a bit by bad defense, as seen in their FIP of 3.85, which is 7th in the NL, and they've also been a bit unlucky, giving up the 2nd highest BAbip in the National League, at .312. But as you can see below, aside from Lee, no one else's numbers on the staff are particularly impressive, despite some occasional good games here and there.
Of course, aside from Lee and Hamels, the rotation consists of sinker-ball pitchers who want hitters to put the ball in play. That's going to lead to a higher BAbip and, with a substandard defense behind them, more runs than a staff with a lot of strikeout arms.
Which brings us back to Lee, whose fWAR of 1.7 is far and away better than anyone else on the staff. With an inconsistent bullpen and an unreliable offense, the Phils desperately need him back. The good news is, he does seem to be improving.
"It is definitely better than it was, but [the discomfort] is still there," he said. "Whenever I can do some of the tests they put me through, if I can do it without feeling it at all, I will start throwing, but until then I will continue to work on it and let it heal."
So, expect to see a lot more of David Buchanan for a while, because it looks like Lee is going to be out for a good long while.
The only question is, will the Phillies be so far out of it by then that it doesn't matter?