Lee gets off to solid start with Mariners

Lee gets off to solid start with Mariners

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Cliff Lee era for the Seattle Mariners began in earnest on Wednesday as the left-hander made his initial Cactus League start against the Rangers at Surprise Stadium.

How long that era will last is anyone's guess. Lee is a free agent at the end of the season.

"I haven't really thought about that a lot, to tell you the truth," Lee said during the course of his new team's 6-3 victory. "I'm focused on preparing right now for the season. If I sign here, great, if I don't and I become a free agent, that's good, too. It's really a win-win situation for me."

Lee worked the first three innings, allowing a run on five hits and a walk while striking out one. He threw 46 pitches, 36 of them for strikes, leaving the game with the Mariners leading, 2-1, and was credited with the win. Twelve of those pitches came against the first hitter to face him in the bottom of the first -- Julio Borbon, who lined out to center on a full-count pitch.

It's been a wild ride of a last 17 months for Lee. He won the 2008 American League Cy Young Award for the Indians after a 22-3 season; was traded by the Tribe to the Phillies two days before the last year's non-waiver Trade Deadline of July 31; almost pitched the Phillies to their second consecutive World Series title last fall and was traded to the Mariners on Dec. 16.

There was also surgery to remove a bone spur from his left foot on Feb. 5, a little matter that Lee says now has been resolved and is no longer an issue.

Almost in jest, Lee was a told by a media member that he'll probably want a no-trade clause in his next contract, maybe two.

"I think every player wants that," Lee said. "I want everything that's going to help me out, obviously. That's part of negotiating. Baseball is totally a business. I've known that for a while. But my contract is out of my control. For me to worry about it or get frustrated about it is pointless."

Lee said he was satisfied with his first outing, during which he worked on locating his fastball and mixing up his breaking pitches. He bent at times, but he didn't break. He was a bit high in the zone, but that will straighten itself out as the spring innings compile.

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After walking Chris Davis to open the second, Lee pitched out of harm's way by inducing Mitch Moreland to ground into a double play to second. Joaquin Arias followed with a hit to center and Taylor Teagarden forced him at second, ending the inning.

In the third, Borbon and Esteban German opened with singles, putting runners on first and third. Again a double-play grounder, this one to third off the bat of David Murphy, got Lee out of any deep trouble, as the run scored. Vladimir Guerrero singled but was stranded on first when Davis popped to second.

"I'm glad he's on our team," Seattle's second-year manager Don Wakamatsu said about having a premier pitcher like Lee heading up the staff. "It's nice to have a guy who understands how to pitch out of some jams, who's been to the World Series, who's won a Cy Young. We're hoping that what he does has an influence on some of our other guys."

Now it's full speed ahead for Lee, who helped pitch Philadelphia into its second consecutive World Series last fall where the then-defending champions lost in six games to the Yankees. Lee was 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA in his two World Series starts and was 4-0 for the Phillies in the postseason.

The Phils decided to part with Lee after acquiring 2003 American League Cy Young Award-winning right-hander Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays.

"It was a good situation there, a good team," Lee said about his three months in Philly. "I enjoyed every minute of being there, but I'm not there anymore."

Lee, who logged a career-high 231 2/3 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 100-120-pitch level before his first start of the season. He'll jump to about 60 pitches his next time out.

Lee's first regular-season start is expected to be on April 6 against the Athletics in Oakland. Although Wakamatsu has not named his Opening Day starter, the nod is expected to go to right-hander Felix Hernandez, who went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA for the Mariners last season.

By then, Lee wants to put any talk of his contract behind him until the offseason. There have been no talks with the Mariners so far, Lee said.

"When the season starts I want to focus on pitching and not worry about the contract or answer questions about it," he added. "That's how I view it. Who knows what's going to happen?"

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.