SEATTLE (AP) — Major League Baseball dropped its five-game suspension of Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee, who could be healthy enough to make his Seattle debut by the end of this month.
The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner threw 70 pain-free pitches in a simulated game Tuesday and was asked how anxious he is to finally pitch for his new team in a game that means something.
"I don't know if it can get any higher," Lee said. "For me, it's the start of the season. I've got to get back and help these guys win. ... I'm excited."
MLB vice president of administration John McHale made the decision Tuesday to drop the suspension after Lee's appeal hearing last week. Lee, general manager Jack Zduriencik and Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said in a conference call with MLB that the left-hander's injuries caused an errant pitch in a spring training game.
The Mariners said McHale wrote in a letter to Lee and the team that he determined "the difficulties in recovering from foot surgery during the offseason combined with the physical challenges created by your serious muscle strain" were sufficient evidence to rescind the suspension and fine.
Baseball often reduces suspensions but rarely drops them. MLB did not provide a previous case of a five-game suspension being completely dropped.
MLB disciplined Lee after he was ejected from a March 15 spring training game in Tucson, Ariz., against the Diamondbacks for throwing over the head of batter Chris Snyder.
Lee had strained his abdomen earlier in the game while colliding with Snyder, as the pitcher was backing up the plate on a scoring play.
"A little bit surprised, but I guess they heard what we said," Lee said of getting the entire penalty wiped away. "I got injured during the game — it's kind of hard to deny that. That had a lot to do with it."
The 31-year-old pitcher chuckled and said his faith is restored in baseball's justice system.
"I mean, I know the ball went at his head. But that doesn't mean I threw at his head on purpose," he said. "That was our case, and they saw it that way."
Seattle placed its prized winter acquisition from Philadelphia on the 15-day disabled list April 4, retroactive to March 26. Lee is due to make a minor league rehabilitation start on Sunday and throw about 85 pitches for Triple-A Tacoma, and the Mariners had planned for him to make his Seattle debut on May 2 against Texas.
Now they are considering him for April 30, also at home against the Rangers. Co-ace Felix Hernandez will stay in his slot on May 1, manager Don Wakamatsu said.
Lee's second simulated game of this homestand came with Wakamatsu and Zduriencik watching hours before the Mariners hosted Baltimore on Tuesday night. Lee said he feels no pain in the abdomen, which he has strained three times since 2003.
"Felt normal, perfectly normal. There's no ab issue at all. It's behind me," Lee said after breaking three bats while facing Mariners starting catcher Rob Johnson plus reserves Eric Byrnes, Matt Tuiasosopo and Adam Moore. "I just have to build up (endurance)."
Zduriencik was smiling, just as he was during Lee's previous simulated game.
"We're very happy with what we've seen," Zduriencik said.
The GM knows his vision of having Hernandez, Lee and Erik Bedard atop the rotation may soon become reality. Bedard continues to progress well following shoulder surgery in August. The left-hander could be back before the end of May.
Mike Teevan, a spokesman for Major League Baseball, said there have been two recent suspensions rescinded by the league. Yet Lee having all five games dropped is the longest suspension to be rescinded, at least recently.
On Sept. 26, 2007, MLB revoked a three-game suspension of Milwaukee pitcher Seth McClung for hitting St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols with a pitch. McHale also heard that appeal, in which McClung produced a videotape of the pitch that showed a hitch in his delivery — indicating bad mechanics rather than intent to throw at Pujols.
Last Sept. 15, the league dropped a three-game suspension and fine for Yankees reserve Shelley Duncan's "aggressive actions" during a bench-clearing brawl with Toronto. Duncan said in his appeal that he was breaking up a fight.