Lee progressing enough to throw bullpen

OAKLAND, Calif. — Cliff Lee had planned to play long toss Friday as part of his recovery from a strained abdominal muscle. He’s feeling so good, he will throw a regular bullpen session instead.

That’s big news for the Seattle Mariners, who can’t wait to get their new co-ace on the mound in a game that counts. Lee, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner acquired in the offseason, is on the disabled list to start the season.

Lee played catch Monday for the second straight day without any trouble, though he knows it’s still a matter of building up arm strength before he’s fully ready to return.

“It’s pretty good,” the left-hander said. “I felt absolutely nothing. It’s behind me. I’ve just got to build up.”

Lee has a hearing April 14 to appeal a five-game suspension and fine he received from the league for throwing over the head of Arizona’s Chris Snyder on March 15. Lee had collided with Snyder earlier in the game while backing up the plate on a scoring play.

The collision resulted in Lee’s current injury.

The bullpen session will be a significant first step to him getting back to make his delayed Mariners debut.

“It’s real encouraging,” manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He doesn’t feel it but now is a time to baby it a little bit. As we get toward Friday and next week, we’ll push him more.”

As of now, Lee is pain-free. That all can change once he increases his effort level from flat ground to throw off a mound.

Wakamatsu said Lee would toss lightly from the mound Wednesday.

“He feels great. He feels no pain at all,” Wakamatsu said. “This is kind of a critical week for us to make sure he doesn’t have a setback. It’s good news.”

Fellow rehabilitating starter Erik Bedard experienced no problems following his bullpen session Sunday in San Francisco. The lefty is recovering from August shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

The Mariners hope Bedard will be ready to pitch again in June, yet he is progressing more quickly than the team expected. Bedard was re-signed to a $1.75 million, one-year contract this winter.

“Erik Bedard feels great. He’s way ahead of schedule,” Wakamatsu said. “He threw all of his pitches yesterday and feels good. Same thing with him, we’ll keep progressing these guys.”

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