With Lee’s suspension dropped, M’s avoid a roster dilemma

During the past couple of days, Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu couldn’t help but think about that 20-inning Cardinals-Mets game on Saturday and how Cards skipper Tony LaRussa wound up with position players pitching and pitchers hitting and playing in the field.

An ultra-long extra-inning game can create such havoc (although Cards fans are irate that LaRussa wound up with a pitcher hitting behind Albert Pujols).

How does all this relate to the Mariners, Cliff Lee and his five-game suspension?

It added another layer to the anxiety that Wakamatsu faced as he and the Mariners waited for Major League Baseball’s ruling after Lee’s hearing last Wednesday.

The Mariners would be forced to play with a 24-man roster during the time Lee would serve the suspension, even if it was reduced. Only having the suspension dropped completely would save the Mariners of playing with a short roster.

That’s why the ruling announced today, that MLB had rescinded the suspension, is greater news to the Mariners as a team than it is to Lee on an individual basis.

Lee’s down time essentially has been determined by his recovery from a strained abdomen. He was scheduled to pitch the May 2 game against Texas whether he served the time or not. If the suspension was upheld or reduced, the Mariners would have activated him from the disabled list to serve his time in the days before he pitched.

Even with the suspension dropped, Lee could pitch no sooner than May 1 anyway because of the five-day rotation of simulated games and minor-league rehab time he is on. He’ll pitch his second simulated game this afternoon at Safeco Field, then pitch Sunday for the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers.

It’s been a wild existence for Lee with the Mariners, and he still hasn’t thrown a regular-season pitch for them. Before spring training began, he had a bone spur removed from his left foot and that delayed him by about 10 days. Then, in his second exhibition game March 15, he got tangled behind the plate with Arizona’s Chris Snyder and, two innings later, threw a pitch behind Snyder’s head.

The Arizona catcher walked toward the mound after that one and Lee was ejected from the game. Three days later, Lee cut short a bullpen session at spring training when he felt discomfort in his lower abdomen. Tests revealed a strain, believed to have occurred during the collision with Snyder.

MLB then handed down the suspension because of the pitch toward Snyder’s head.

Today, John McHale, MLB’s senior vice president of administration, cited “the difficulties in recovering from foot surgery during the off-season combined with the physical challenges created by your serious muscle strain” was evidence sufficient to rescind the suspension and fine.

This doesn’t mean the Wakamatsu is off the hook for some interesting lineup decisions if he has a game last 20 innings or so, but he’ll have a full roster to deal with it now.

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