Apr 16, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee tries to keep warm during first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Cliff Lee could return near the All Star Break

Cliff Lee appears to be progressing in his efforts to return to the Philadelphia Phillies and may be ready to rejoin the team’s starting rotation around the All Star Break. Lee is scheduled to throw his third bullpen session on Tuesday, according to CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman, and could then throw a simulated game on Saturday at Citizen’s Bank Park.

Should things go well, Lee will likely make one or two rehab starts before returning to the team.

Lee has been on the disabled list since May 20 with what has been described as a strain in his left elbow. The 35 year old had made ten starts for the Phillies before the injury, posting a 4-4 record and 3.18 ERA in 68.0 IP. His 1.279 WHIP, while still respectable, marked his highest rate since the 2009 season. Even still, Philadelphia has been anxious to have him back in the rotation.

Manager Ryne Sandberg sounded optimistic when he spoke with Seidman:

He’s progressing fine, passing all of the tests. His first bullpen was quality with location and stuff, and rebounding from it the next day with the way he felt. All positives.

David Buchanan has filled in reasonably well in Lee’s absence. He’s made six starts, compiling a 3-3 record with a 4.95 ERA and 1.211 WHIP. The rookie is certainly not the same caliber of pitcher as Lee, but he hasn’t been overwhelmed with an unexpected promotion to the major leagues either. He’s actually thrown better with the Phillies than he was at Triple-A before the call up.

Perhaps one of the biggest questions around Lee’s return is just how quickly he can prove his health. The Phillies sit at the bottom of the NL East and could look to move some players at the trade deadline. Lee would make an attractive option to many teams, provided he’s able to first demonstrate he’s healthy and in turn is willing to waive the limited no-trade clause that he has. Cost, of course, will also be a factor. Lee is earning $25 Million this season and will receive the same in 2015, plus there is a vesting option worth $27.5 Million (with a $12.5 Million buyout) for the 2016 season. Teams may line up to take him off of the Phillies’ hands, but only if Philadelphia is willing to pitch in a portion of that remaining salary.

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