GOODYEAR, Ariz. – Seattle Mariners fan Jeff Honnald was on a plane back to Seattle on Friday after a week of watching his team in spring training when he was greeted by an unusual sight.
Seated just two rows in front of him, in coach class no less, was none other than Mariners pitcher Cliff Lee. Honnald did a double-take, glanced at a poster of Lee he had with him just to be sure it was the right guy, then began asking himself the usual questions.
“I was a little surprised, first that he was sitting with the rest of us, and then that he wasn’t in camp with the rest of the team,” said Honnald, 19, a Tacoma resident on spring break from business classes at Washington State. “At first, I thought it was strange, but then I figured he was just going to get his foot checked on after his surgery, or maybe he was buying a house up here.”
Unfortunately for the Mariners, on a pretty dismal day, that wasn’t the case. Lee was instead off to the doctor’s office and would eventually get a platelet-rich injection to treat what has been diagnosed as a lower right abdominal strain.
He’ll be sidelined at least a couple of weeks and possibly longer.
“He’ll be out a bit, but we’re hoping for a speedy recovery,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said.
That might not be as simple as it sounds.
Lee will sit out a week and then be re-evaluated by Dr. Edward Khalfayan, who did an ultrasound examination on him and diagnosed the strain. It could be at least another week after that before he throws off a mound, meaning he likely won’t start the season on time.
This is the third time in seven years that Lee has suffered a strain in the right abdomen area. The previous came in 2003 and 2007, the latter of which saw him miss most of April.
Lee was already gearing up to possibly miss the first five games of the season after being suspended for throwing at Chris Snyder of the Diamondbacks in the third inning of a game Monday. That incident was preceded by one in the first inning in which Lee collided with Snyder – who was standing in the on-deck circle – while attempting to back up a play at home plate.
It was on that play that Lee first felt something wrong.
“He said he felt it in there during the collision,” Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. “He thought that’s when it happened. It got tighter as the game went on.”
Wakamatsu did not want to speculate on his plans for the start of the season. He’d spoken earlier Friday about possibly carrying an extra starter north – whoever loses the No. 5 battle between Doug Fister and Jason Vargas – to fill in for Lee if he needed to serve his suspension.
Now Lee possibly faces a longer absence.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re extremely excited about having him in the rotation. We’ll have to evaluate and see where we are. It makes the decision-making process harder.”
Mariners fan Honnald, who had been in the stands in Tucson, Ariz., to witness the Lee-Snyder collision, salvaged some personal good out of Friday’s discouraging turn of events. He’d acquired just three autographs his entire week in Arizona – Luke French, Brandon League and Vargas – but approached Lee upon landing in Seattle.
“I had my poster with me of Lee and Felix Hernandez, so I pulled it out and he signed it,” Honnald said. “It’s kind of funny. I spend a week in Arizona and the best autograph I get is when I’m back in Seattle.”