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Lee suspended for first five games of 2010

Lee suspended for first five games of 2010

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- The imposing one-two punch at the top of the Mariners' starting rotation appears to be on hold for a while.

Cliff Lee's extracurricular activities in Tucson, Ariz., on Monday were penalized Wednesday, when Major League Baseball announced that the pitcher has been issued a five-game suspension, effective at the start of the regular season. Lee, who declined to comment on the issue Wednesday afternoon, was ejected for throwing at Arizona catcher Chris Snyder in the third inning, an incident that emptied both benches. With the suspension comes immediate confusion for the Mariners.

The 2008 American League Cy Young Award-winning left-hander, expected to be the team's No. 2 starter behind last year's Cy Young runner-up, Felix Hernandez, was on schedule to pitch in Oakland on April 6.

Lee will appeal the decision, general manager Jack Zduriencik said, and if the appeal is denied, Lee will have to wait until at least April 10 at Texas. In that situation, Hernandez will have to wait an extra day to pitch April 11, and their spots in the rotation will be flipped.

Either way, the Mariners are going to have to rearrange their starting rotation after Hernandez faces the A's on Opening Day.

"It is what it is," Zduriencik said. "[I'm] a little bit surprised [at the suspension], but in the end, I don't think we'll have a whole lot of comments on it."

With two outs and a runner on second base, Lee threw a pitch that sailed right over the head of Snyder, who walked out of the batter's box toward Lee as the two exchanged words.

Home-plate umpire Brian Knight immediately ejected Lee and both dugouts and bullpens emptied toward the mound, but no punches were thrown.

The incident appeared to be related to a confrontation between the two in the first inning, when Lee ran to cover home plate on a Chris Young RBI single and ran into Snyder, causing him to fall down.

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Lee stated that he didn't intend to throw the ball at Snyder at all.

"I was trying to go inside, a couple got away from me, and the guy hitting got mad and came towards the mound and I got thrown out of the game in the process," Lee said. "That's it in a nutshell."

Lee said he didn't think the first-inning collision was anything to mention, either, since he wasn't aware of how it happened in the first place.

"All I know was I was rolling on the ground," Lee said. "I got knocked down. I didn't see it all. I was looking at the play."

MLB didn't agree with Lee's statements, and the result could cost Lee a start, although it's possible that an appeal would cut down the five games, allowing Lee to get the ball within the team's first five games, albeit not as the No. 2 man.

Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said the team was planning on mapping out the starting rotation over the first month of the season as early as the club's next off-day in Arizona on March 30.

"Now we'll look at it a little more," he said.

Wakamatsu said one thing the Mariners will do is take the exhibition game against the Giants in San Francisco on Sunday, April 4, as an opportunity to pitch mostly Minor Leaguers and get the rotation where it needs to be.

If Lee ends up serving five days, the Mariners could set the rotation with Hernandez first, lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith second, righty Ian Snell third and the winner of the battle for the No. 5 slot -- lefty Jason Vargas or righty Doug Fister -- fourth.

Then they'd probably have to rely on a long reliever for a spot start to cover for Lee in the team's fifth game, scheduled for Friday, April 9, in Texas.

In that scenario, once eligible, Lee could jump ahead of Hernandez, making his first start in the second game against Texas, an afternoon tilt on Saturday, April 10.

If Lee's suspension is reduced to three games, the Mariners would likely slot him into the fourth spot in the rotation, meaning he'd make his first regular-season appearance as a Mariner in the getaway game of the four-game series in Oakland on Thursday afternoon, April 8, but he probably wouldn't be able to pitch directly after Hernandez until May.

Wakamatsu said he wasn't taken aback by the suspension.

"I assumed there would be some action on it, yeah," he said. "He's going to appeal and we'll just let the process take place."

Meanwhile, in D-backs camp, D-backs manager A.J. Hinch declined to comment and Snyder offered no reaction on the decision.

"That's not my call," Snyder said. "MLB made the call on it. That's it."

And as far as any lingering animosity over the kerfuffle, Snyder said he didn't expect it.

"We don't have them on our schedule," Snyder said. "The only time we would see them is if we both make it in October, and by then, I'm sure that suspension will be over with."

Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Steve Gilbert contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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