Lee set for Cactus League debut

Lee set for Cactus League debut

PEORIA, Ariz. -- A picture the Mariners hope to see at least 34 times during the regular season gets a little clearer Wednesday afternoon when left-hander Cliff Lee makes his Cactus League debut against the Rangers in Surprise.

The first start for his new team under game conditions comes almost four months after being acquired from the Phillies for three players and nearly five weeks after having a bone spur removed from his left foot.

As of Wednesday, it's full-speed ahead for the lefty.

"The biggest thing with his first outing is making sure that he's healthy and has a good tempo," Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair said. "But the bottom line is getting him out there pitching.

"Probably the best-case scenario would be for him to go three innings in 45 or so pitches."

Lee, who logged a career-high 272 innings last season for the Indians and Phillies, threw 34 pitches in a simulated game last week and said afterward that his goal was to reach the 100- to 120-pitch level before his first regular-season start.

"If he gets to 50 pitches [Wednesday] and you add on 15 pitches each time he pitches and he has five more starts, you do the math," Adair said.

That would get Lee well over the 100-pitch mark.

Lee's first regular-season start is expected to be on April 6 against the Athletics in Oakland, although manager Don Wakamatsu has not named his Opening Day starter.

Right-hander Felix Hernandez, expected to get his second straight Opening Day assignment, also has been brought along slowly this spring and pitched a two-inning simulated game Tuesday.

"I thought he looked outstanding," Wakamatsu said. "It's really impressive to me to watch what a difference a year makes in the way he goes about his business. I think he's on track. I know we've held him back a little bit, but watching the action of his pitches, I couldn't be more pleased at this point."

The skipper would like to say the same things about Lee after Wednesday's outing.

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"In his last outing [a simulated game], I thought his command was a little erratic," he said. "We'd like to see him down in the zone a little bit more and consistent."

The Hernandez-Lee combination has the Mariners upbeat and confident that they can compete for a division championship for the first time since 2003, when they led the American League West much of the season before collapsing down the stretch.

Lee was the AL Cy Young Award winner in 2008, when he went 22-3 for the Indians, and Hernandez finished second for the top pitching award last season after posting a 19-5 record and 2.49 ERA.

Hernandez retired eight of the nine batters he faced in the simulated game, played in cold weather.

"The one thing you see on weather days like this is that the ball actually acts normal, as opposed to Arizona," Wakamatsu said. "I think you saw a little more sink today because of that."

Hernandez was pleased with the outing and said he would be ready for his first regular-season start.

Whenever that might be, but feel free to write it down: April 5.

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.