PEORIA, Ariz. — A starting rotation with Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the top is giving the Seattle Mariners plenty of optimism for 2010.
The club knows what it has in Hernandez, who won 19 games last season and isn’t yet 24 years old.
Soon the Mariners will see what they have in Lee, a veteran left-hander who has come up big in big games, most recently in last year’s playoffs, when he went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Lee was acquired in an offseason trade and has yet to be cleared by the Mariners to pitch after minor surgery to remove a bone spur from his left foot two weeks ago.
Lee, who still has strips of athletic tape covering the area of the surgery, is scheduled to take part in pitchers’ fielding practice Monday and is expected to toss a bullpen session on Wednesday. Heavy rain at the Mariners’ spring training complex prevented Lee from taking part in fielding practice on Saturday.
“It would be good to get him back on the mound. That’s our first step,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “Get him feeling comfortable with the club.”
Yet little can douse the Mariners’ excitement about having Lee, who came to Seattle in a December trade with the Phillies in exchange for three prospects.
“I joke. I said back in our winter meetings in October, I said ‘Cliff Lee is the guy I’m targeting,”’ Wakamatsu said. “That whole process was pretty amazing. At winter meetings his name got brought up and everybody got giddy in the room, and the second part is, ‘Can we really do this?’ and (general manager) Jack (Zduriencik) made it happen, which was pretty special.”
Wakamatsu said the club talked a lot about bringing in a veteran pitcher to complement Hernandez.
“I just didn’t think it was going to be Cliff Lee,” he said.
Immediately after the trade, Lee expressed disbelief at being dealt away by the Phillies, having never played for a team west of his native Arkansas and thinking the Phillies wanted to keep him for the rest of his career. Lee is under contract through this season only, but has said he’ll make the best of it with the hope that he has the kind of experience in Seattle that he had in Philadelphia.
“It makes you feel good that you’re wanted and that guys are getting the impression that you’re going to help out the team that much,” Lee said. “It’s still my job to do everything I know to do to prepare and get myself ready. That’s where my focus is.”
The 31-year-old Lee has a veteran presence and All-Star and Cy Young Award credentials, but doesn’t intend to be a vocal leader in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“I’m more of just lead-by-example type stuff,” he said. “I just make sure I do my work, and if guys have any questions or need any help or I see anything that I think I need to take charge and help out with, I will, but I’m not coming in here and trying to be a leader. There’s several guys in this clubhouse that have been here for a while and it’s their team.”
Mariners pitcher Ian Snell hopes to learn a few things from Lee about how to attack hitters and on what counts to throw certain pitches.
“He’s been in the playoffs. He’s been in the World Series,” Snell said. “I’ve picked his brain a lot already. He’s got a lot of knowledge in there about the game. Even though he’s left-handed, I can learn how to take situations in a game and use them to my advantage.”