Lee, Burnett, Kendrick starting in Texas

Posted: March 19, 2014

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Clubhouse attendants yanked the fresh Phillies green caps and jerseys from lockers Monday and stored them for Thursday. St. Patrick's Day was postponed for three days. A few Phillies pitchers scrambled through the raindrops to the minor-league complex for indoor simulated games.

It felt longer than two weeks until opening day. So manager Ryne Sandberg decided it was time to reveal a not-so-secret nomination.

Cliff Lee will start March 31 at Globe Life Park opposite the Texas Rangers and Yu Darvish. It is just the second opening-day nod for Lee, a 35-year-old lefthanded model of consistency.

"I'm ready to go," Lee said. "It's coming on us pretty quick."

From the moment Cole Hamels announced that biceps tendinitis would delay his season, this was assumed. Lee last started an opening day in 2009 while with Cleveland. That game, coincidentally, was at Texas. The Rangers shelled the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner for seven runs in five innings.

"I remember the first inning [Ian] Kinsler hit a ball off my wrist," Lee said. "I definitely remember it. It wasn't my best performance. It wasn't my best performance, but I kept pitching."

That is ancient history for these Phillies.

"Easy call," Sandberg said. "Easy call based on everything. Obvious reasons. Last year, he was an all-star. The way he's pitching this spring. Easy call."

The rest of the rotation is less certain. The two pitchers who will follow Lee - A.J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick - were relegated Monday to throwing at inside batting cages because of rain that canceled the annual St. Patrick's Day celebration at Bright House Field.

Sandberg did not name Roberto Hernandez as his fourth starter, but the righthander is likely to start the team's fourth game, which doubles as Wrigley Field's 100th home opener. The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 14. They have not yet determined whether a four- or five-man rotation is optimal for the first two weeks.

"It's right at 50-50," pitching coach Bob McClure said. "It's just a thought. We have guys who are building up along with other guys. We'll just see how, health-wise, we come out of this and go from there."

There does not appear to be any harm in employing a four-man rotation.

"With the off days, if you're pitching on your fifth day, that's not pushing them," McClure said. "No one is going to pitch on their fourth day. If they have bad weather, they might pitch on the sixth day. You're not really pushing anything."

David Buchanan and Jeff Manship are the top candidates to occupy Hamels' spot. Jonathan Pettibone, who made 18 starts as a rookie in 2013, could push himself into the mix even though he has not yet appeared in a Grapefruit League game.

Pettibone was sidelined by shoulder soreness that affected him last summer. The Phillies injected him with cortisone but adopted a conservative approach. He threw inside to batters Monday. He left a strong impression.

He could be ready by the time the Phillies require a fifth arm.

"From the way he threw today, yes," McClure said. "We're not going to rush him, of course. But everything went really good today."

Pettibone is scheduled to pitch Saturday against Pittsburgh for two or three innings.

The top is solidified with Lee. He proclaimed his arm ready for meaningful action. But Lee must start two more spring games before then.

Last season, Hamels ended Roy Halladay's three-year tenure as the No. 1 pitcher. Now, with Lee's appointment, the Phillies will have used different opening-day pitchers in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-02, when Andy Ashby, Omar Daal, and Robert Person did it.

"It's not really that big of a deal," Lee said. "We're all going to pitch, and we're all going to pitch every five days, so it's just a matter of what order. It's an honor to be the first guy, but then again once we get going, it doesn't matter who's first."


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb inquirer.com/phillieszone

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