SEATTLE -- Cliff Lee took the mound at Safeco Field on Friday afternoon, and it might not have been in a Major League game, but the Mariners will take what they saw. Lee, on the disabled list since the beginning of the season because of a lower abdominal strain suffered a month ago during Spring Training, faced hitters for the first time since the injury and reported no problems after throwing 51 pitches in a simulated game. "It went good," Lee said. "The more I threw, the better I felt, as far as command-wise. I threw all my pitches, I felt fine, and I'll continue to move forward."
Lee's session was attended by general manager Jack Zduriencik, manager Don Wakamatsu, head trainer Rick Griffin and a host of coaches and players. Everyone seemed happy when it was over -- especially Lee. "No pain," he said. "No pain at all. I feel perfectly normal. It feels good to face hitters. It's been a little while for me. Just when I started to get the feel for it, I got the ab strain, so it feels good to get back out there and face hitters. It's what my job is. To get to work on that is definitely important." It was important for the hitters, too, and one of them, outfielder Eric Byrnes, said things seemed just about normal for the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner. "Same Cliff Lee I've always known," Byrnes said. "He's got real good stuff. His fastball seemed like it had a lot of life and a lot of movement. He looks ready to me." For Zduriencik, who orchestrated the part of the offseason three-team trade that netted Lee, the vision of starting-pitching dominance that was put on hold in March is starting to appear once again on the calendar. "If you're going to fast-forward to the future, you're going to have a Friday night where you have Felix [Hernandez], then a Saturday night with Cliff, and we're going to have [rehabbing starter] Erik [Bedard] coming back. It's exciting to think about that. "To walk away from his first simulated game saying he felt good, this is a positive step -- a big, positive step. ... It's an exciting day, I think, for him and for us." The plan for Lee, according to Wakamatsu, is to have him throw another simulated game on Tuesday, stretching out to about 65 pitches, and then make a Minor League rehab start five days later. The goal remains a return to the Major League mound for Lee on May 1 or 2 at home against Texas. And while Lee still awaits the decision from Major League Baseball regarding the five-game suspension for throwing behind Chris Snyder in that same March 15 game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, even if Lee has to serve all five games, Zduriencik could activate Lee the day after his rehab start and then have the left-hander serve the length of the suspension and still make his planned 2010 debut on time. In that case, the Mariners would have to play with a 24-man roster for five games, but they seemed more than willing to make that sacrifice after watching Lee breeze through his Friday test. "I feel as good as I feel in the middle of the season when things are going well," Lee said. "I just have to build up the tolerance to throw 100 pitches or so. I was throwing 100 percent. For what I've got right now, that was as much as I can do right there."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.