Cliff Lee is getting closer to being ready for the Cleveland Indians. That's good news for both the Tribe and the Buffalo Bisons, who will likely see the return of Fausto Carmona to their rotation when Cleveland's ace left-hander gets the call back to the big leagues.
Lee threw four decent innings on an injury rehab assignment for the Herd in Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Pawtucket Red Sox at Dunn Tire Park.
He allowed two runs on four hits but finished with a flourish by retiring the final six hitters he faced in front of an announced crowd of 7,532. Lee threw 65 pitches, 41 for strikes.
Lee missed virtually all of spring training with a strained right abdominal muscle. He threw two scoreless innings April 10 for Class A Kinston, then pitched in extended spring training last week in Winter Haven, Fla., before joining the Herd. He will likely have one more outing, either in Buffalo or Double-A Akron.
"I just wanted to make sure I got my work in and start building up my innings," Lee said. "I feel good. Everything is going the way it's supposed to and I'm excited and anxious to get back with the team in Cleveland. I think I could go five, six innings right now [for the Indians]. Obviously, I need to be able to throw 100 pitches when I get there. . . . I'm willing and ready to do whatever they want me to do."
Lee was 14-11 for the Indians last year and led all American League lefties in victories when he was 18-5 in 2005. That season, he became the first Tribe pitcher to lead the AL in winning percentage since Bob Feller did it in 1951.
Making his first appearance for Buffalo since 2003, Lee was touched for a run in the first on Bobby Scales' RBI single, and Scales belted a first-pitch homer to left against him leading off the third. Lee stranded two runners in the second.
"I think the first couple innings it wasn't where Cliff Lee wants to be," said Buffalo manager Torey Lovullo. "It just took him a little time to get attuned to what was going on. His third and fourth inning were much more effective and I think the next time will be even better. He was startled that he was done, when I told him he was finished. It's a great sign, a great indication he wants to go out there and get more work.
Lee said he was a little sore the day after his start in Kinston but had no pain after the start in Winter Haven. He said that was a relief, given how difficult his spring was.
"We tried to come back two different times," he said. "The first time, I played catch and took it easy for a couple days. Then I went off the mound again and still felt it. I shut it down for two or three days without throwing, then slowly started coming back, still felt it. We decided not to throw for a week and slowly build back and that's worked."
The Buffalo offense has worked well thus far, compiling a .304 average with runners in scoring position en route to a 9-3 start. But the Bisons were a miserable 1 for 15 in those situations Saturday -- leaving a man at third base in six innings. The lone hit was Luis Rivas' fifth-inning single that moved Ben Francisco from second to third as part of a two-run rally.
"We had a number of opportunities that we've been cashing in mightily up until tonight," Lovullo said. "These pitchers we faced today have pretty good stuff."
Buffalo left the bases loaded in the second and left two on in the fifth, sixth and ninth. With two on in the ninth, Pawtucket closer Craig Hansen struck out Hector Luna and ended the game by getting Jason Cooper to fly out to center.
Pawtucket broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth when cleanup man Jeff Bailey, batting just .169 and in a 1-for-26 slump, drove a two-run homer to left on an 0-2 pitch off Rafael Perez (1-1).
Pawtucket 5, Bisons 3
The Pitch: Herd strands 12, goes 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position. ... Lee allows two runs in four innings of rehab start. ... Scales, Bailey homer for Pawsox.
Fast fact: Buffalo catchers are just 8 for 57 at the plate this season.
Next game: Today vs. Pawtucket at Dunn Tire Park, 1:05 p.m. (Family Fun Day)