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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can Cliff Lee Stay Healthy?

As Mets fan prepare for battle this season against rival Philadelphia, it’s time we take a clinical look at the latest Philly team addition, Cliff Lee.

Those of us who watched the 2010 World Series caught a glimpse of Cliff Lee’s pitching vulnerability. World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria spotted it as he hit the 3-run blast off of Lee that would make the SF Giants world champions.

The 32- year old left-hander is now entering his 10th career season in the majors. Lee has had three strained abdominal muscles since 2003. While he was with Seattle, early in the 2010 season, Lee was sidelined with a strained abdomen that caused him to miss the first weeks of the season while placed on the 15 day disabled list. The two additional injuries happened in spring training when he was with Cleveland and put Lee out for six weeks.

In his worst season to date, Lee struggled with the same abdominal injury as well as a groin strain in 2007 while with the Cleveland Indians. His inconsistencies landed him a stint to the minors, making him a non-factor in Cleveland’s playoff run.

In late September 2010, Lee, who had gone 0-3 with an 8.38 ERA in his last five starts dating back to his outing against the Yankees, was diagnosed with lower back inflammation. At the end of the year, when he was with the Texas Rangers, Lee had trigger point injection in his back to offset the injury.

Although in 2008 Lee gained dominance, winning the Cy Young award, he was traded three times. He has publicly stated that he “did not want to pitch in the American League East” where the pitching is ultra-competitive. It is obvious that he finds Philly a safe haven to rest his pitching elbow.

Now that Lee is playing for a National League team again, he will be expected to place a bunt down now and again and expected to run the 90 feet to first base at least twice in a game. With these scenarios in mind, Lee has a 45 percent chance of landing on the disabled list in 2011.

The core of Cliff Lee is in doubt especially if we factor in the temperatures in the beginning of the season and end of the season in the east coast. These are not likely to aid in a 32 years old veteran pitchers achy abdomen and back.

Otherwise, without question, Lee is a master on the mound. And, if he can stay healthy, he would be an ace on any pitching staff or a great number two behind Halladay. But perhaps there was a reason Cliff Lee only signed the deal for five years.

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