SEATTLE -- Things are looking better every day for Cliff Lee and the Mariners. After a month without their new left-hander, Seattle got two pieces of great news on Tuesday. First was the fact that Major League Baseball rescinded Lee's five-game suspension for throwing near the head of D-backs catcher Chris Snyder during a Spring Training game on March 15. Second was another successful simulated game for Lee at Safeco Field and a plan firmly in place to have him back on the mound and making his Mariners debut either April 30 or May 2.
"I feel like the last [simulated game, Friday] was the first time I'd faced hitters in a few weeks, and it was a little bit rusty," Lee said after throwing 70 pitches to Mariners hitters, including Adam Moore, Eric Byrnes and Matt Tuiasosopo. "My last bullpen was better, and today was better, so I'm heading in the right direction." Lee, on the disabled list since the beginning of the season because of a lower abdominal strain suffered during the same game in which he incurred the suspension, said he was relieved and a bit surprised that John McHale Jr., MLB's executive vice president of administration, informed Lee of the decision that the suspension had been rescinded after Lee's case was stated with help from Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu in a two-hour hearing on April 14. McHale determined that the "the difficulties in recovering from foot surgery during the offseason, combined with the physical challenges created by your serious muscle strain" were proof enough to rescind the suspension and fine. "I was a little bit surprised," Lee said. "I guess they heard what we said. I got injured during the game, so it's kind of hard to deny that. That had a lot to do with it. I know the ball went at his head, but that doesn't mean I threw it at his head on purpose. That was our case, and they saw it that way, so that was it. "It's behind us now. It feels good to know that's over with and now I can focus on just getting ready to pitch. It's looking like it's going to be pretty soon, so I'm excited." Wakamatsu said the plan is for Lee to play catch on Friday, make a rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Tacoma -- 30 miles down Interstate 5 -- and that would put him on schedule to pitch either an April 30 home game against Texas on four days' rest or a Sunday afternoon game on six days' rest. Wakamatsu said Felix Hernandez would pitch on May 1 as scheduled. He also said he liked what he saw from Lee on Tuesday. "We talked about his last outing being a little bit up in the zone or missing a little bit, and I thought he was pretty good today with all his pitches," Wakamatsu said. "I like the fact that, even today, he felt like he could go out and do another one. He didn't feel tired after 70 pitches. I think that's our biggest concern, that we're not rushing him back, and that his pitch count is as high as it is. So we're pretty fortunate." Wakamatsu said Lee would throw somewhere around 85 pitches for Tacoma. "The biggest thing is to watch his command in that outing so he's ready to start back here when we get back off that road trip," said Wakamatsu, who will then likely be forced to choose between righty Doug Fister and lefty Jason Vargas for the last spot in the rotation. As for Lee, he said the abdominal issue is "behind" him and now he just has to build up the required endurance for 100-plus pitches every five days. "I'm going to go out there and pitch until they take the ball from me," Lee said. "I expect to give the team a chance to win, throw strikes, force the other team to swing the bat ... That's what I expect every time I take the mound." That's what the Mariners like to hear, and that, along with the hearing result, made it a great Tuesday for Lee and the team. "They ruled according to everything they felt they had in front of them, and obviously we're happy that we're going to get Cliff back and there's no suspension to be served," Zduriencik said. "We'll sit down with Don and [pitching coach] Rick [Adair] and put all of our heads together. "I'm anxious to hear what they say and see how Cliff feels. So that's a positive today."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.