Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee was placed on the 15-day disabled list after an MRI showed a grade 1/2 left elbow strain, the team announced on Tuesday. Lee had the MRI after experiencing discomfort late in his start on Sunday, according to CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury.
Lee had been dealing with tenderness in the elbow for three weeks, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. told Salisbury on Tuesday, but the problem recently reached the point where a team doctor felt the MRI was necessary.
"It's pretty mild," Amaro told reporters, per Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News. "But it is a strain and we want to be careful."
While never a flamethrower, Lee's fastball velocity in 2014 has dipped under 90 MPH, the lowest it has been since 2007. The 35-year-old left-hander has a 3.18 ERA with 61 strikeouts and only nine walks in 68 innings this season. In mid-April, Lee struck out 23 batters in 17 innings spanning two starts against the Braves and Dodgers. He threw a combined 241 pitches in those two outings. Since then, Lee has still been pretty good, but his strikeouts have dipped and seven of the nine walks he's issued this season have come during that period.
If Lee winds up missing much time, the Phillies won't have Jonathan Pettibone to call upon, at least for now. Pettibone, who has been at Triple-A Lehigh Valley since April 19, has been shut down with a shoulder injury and is scheduled to visit with Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday, according to Philly.com's Marc Narducci. Former big-league hurlers Barry Enright, Sean O'Sullivan and Greg Smith each have sub-4.00 ERAs with the Phillies' Triple-A squad. David Buchanan, a 25-year-old right-hander who has yet to appear in the big leagues, has also been solid in nine starts for Lehigh Valley.
All of those players are options to replace Lee, though none of the four are on Philadelphia's 40-man roster. Double-A starter Jesse Biddle isn't either, but the 22-year-old left-hander is having the best season of any starting pitcher in the organization that would realistically be in the mix to join the Phillies' rotation.
Philadelphia is currently in last place in the NL East, entering Tuesday with a 19-22 record. If the Phillies remain out of contention, Lee could be a valuable trade chip if he's healthy, as noted by Salisbury. However, losing Lee would also affect Philly's chances of competing, creating a lose-lose scenario for the team if the veteran southpaw misses a large chunk of time.
Lee has made fewer than 30 starts in a season only twice since 2004. One of those seasons was 2010, when Lee made 28 starts and led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio. The other was 2007, when he struggled in 16 starts with the Indians and was optioned to Triple-A at one point during the season.