Lee was effective last night, retiring each of the first seven batter he faced. But then, in the third inning, his troublesome 2014 season took an ominous turn.
Lee winced after throwing his 31st pitch of the night, an 85-mph cutter to the 10th batter he faced, Washington leadoff hitter Denard Span. He cursed aloud, to no one in particular.
And then trainer Scott Sheridan jogged onto the field to check out Lee's elbow, manager Ryne Sandberg followed, and Lee angrily walked off the field.
"My last five or six pitches, I felt at any moment something could snap," Lee said afterward. "And that's the end of it. I obviously didn't want that to happen."
The Phillies beat the Washington Nationals, 10-4, but Lee's latest setback cast a dark cloud over the team.
Lee was visibly upset as he wandered aimlessly in the visiting dugout, wondering what was next for his ailing left arm.
The first diagnosis from the Phillies medical staff: Lee has a flexor pronator strain, a reoccurrence of the injury that kept the pitcher on the disabled list for 2 months this year.
Lee, signed four winters ago to a 5-year, $120 million contract, didn't just throw what's almost certainly his final pitch of the season. It could be the last pitch he throws in a Phillies uniform and possibly in his career, too.
Lee, who turns 36 later this month, was placed on the 15-day disabled list and lefthander Cesar Jimenez was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley.
The severity of Lee's injury won't be known until he undergoes more tests. But the possibility of Tommy John surgery cannot be ignored, as it's almost always the end game for elbow injuries.
In March, for example, San Diego pitcher (and former Miami Marlins ace) Josh Johnson was diagnosed with a flexor pronator strain. In April, he underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery.
"It's obviously a possibility," Lee said of surgery. "I really don't know. I'll have to have the doctors assess it and do their tests."
Lee will be examined by a doctor in Washington tomorrow and get further tests when the Phillies return home after the weekend. Perhaps it's a bit premature to assume Lee might need surgery, but this is the second occurrence of the same ailment this season that prevented Lee from pitching.
When he landed on the disabled list on May 20, Lee said he first began to feel the injury surface in his fourth start of the season, back in April. During the rehab process, Lee let on more than a couple of times that the discomfort was still there, although not as severe.
Lee made three rehab starts at Class A Clearwater and returned to the Phillies' rotation 11 days ago. The initial results from his comeback attempt were at best shaky, and at worst worrisome.
Lee allowed a career-high-tying 12 hits in a 7-4 loss to San Francisco in his first game in 2 months. The Phillies lost his second start, too, when he was gone after allowing three runs on nine hits in five innings.
"My past two starts, I just kind of felt tired the whole time," Lee said. "My body wasn't fully ready to compete at the highest level. Today, bodywise, I felt great. I felt normal. My elbow was not allowing it to happen."
According to PITCHf/x data, Lee's fastball in those two starts averaged 89.1 mph, down from 91.55 mph in Texas on Opening Day. A drop in velocity is not entirely surprising when a pitcher is coming off a lengthy layoff, but after Lee grabbed at his elbow last night, there is reason to wonder if Lee's left arm ever got right.
"No, it progressively got better," Lee said. "My first rehab start, it was barely there. The next one, it was better. The past two starts it wasn't really there at all. I was thinking it was gone. I don't know what happened from yesterday to today. My first couple of throws playing catch to start the game, it was barely there. I don't really understand why that happened."
After a brief delay in play as the Phillies prepped a pitcher to replace Lee, the offense rolled out a 17-hit effort to beat Washington. Ben Revere (4-for-6, two runs, RBI) had his third four-hit game of the season, while Grady Sizemore (3-for-5, three RBI) and Jimmy Rollins (3-for-5, a run, an RBI, two stolen bases) had three hits apiece.
On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21