A more realistic timetable is a month. Chris Sale, the 25-year-old White Sox ace, was placed on the disabled list April 18 with a similar flexor tendon strain. Sale made one rehab start and will return to the majors Thursday, 34 days after his injury.
Lee, 35, said the soreness in his elbow developed April 18, the day after he threw a career-high 128 pitches against Atlanta. It bothered him to varying degrees in subsequent outings.
"As much season as we have left," Lee said, "I didn't think I could keep pitching like that."
The Phillies will need a replacement beginning with Saturday's game against Los Angeles. The logical choice is David Buchanan, the 25-year-old righthander who impressed team officials during spring training. He is slated to pitch Saturday for triple-A Lehigh Valley.
"His last outing, he wasn't very sharp," Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "But he's generally been pretty consistent since he's been down there. He hasn't been dominant. But he's been consistent and he's winning."
Buchanan's first eight starts at triple-A Lehigh Valley yielded a 3.18 ERA. He struck out 31 in 392/3 innings and walked 16. But in his last start, on May 18, Buchanan threw 45 pitches in a nightmarish first inning. He was tagged for four runs on five hits and a walk. He did not pitch in the second inning.
Amaro said Buchanan injured his left (non-throwing) clavicle May 3 when he dove for a ball. He is healthy now. Buchanan has thrown more than 97 pitches in a start just once.
Manager Ryne Sandberg indicated a decision could be announced Thursday.
"We have a couple of choices," he said.
Greg Smith, Barry Enright, Sean O'Sullivan, and Brad Lincoln make up the rest of Lehigh Valley's rotation. Smith, who has a 3.72 ERA in eight outings, has started 40 major-league games in his career.
Jesse Biddle has reduced his walk rate at double-A Reading, but the Phillies do not consider him ready. The injury to Lee, however, could push Biddle to triple A. He has a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts for Reading with 61 strikeouts and 24 walks in 562/3 innings.
Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw will make his fourth start of the season Friday at Citizens Bank Park to start a three-game series. . . . The Phillies re-signed righthander Shawn Camp to a minor-league deal but have yet to assign him to a team.