Cliff Lee has the illustrious resume that has consistently put him in the middle of trade speculation at the end of July. But the Phillies' southpaw still has a lot to prove this time around as he takes the hill for the last time before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline on Saturday against the D-backs at Citizens Bank Park.
In his last outing on Monday vs. the Giants, Lee clearly showed some rust after spending two months on the disabled list with a left elbow strain. Over 5 2/3 innings, Lee allowed a career-high-tying 12 hits, six runs and a walk while striking out three in a losing effort.
Though Lee is normally pinpoint with his pitch location, one scout said his command and execution in the strike zone wasn't "Cliff-like."
But the veteran hurler was still able to maintain his velocity throughout the 90-pitch night, which was an indication the poor results were most likely not health related, and more due to the long layoff.
Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg agreed.
"Rusty," Sandberg said. "It was evident right in the first inning, going 2-0 on the first couple of batters. He showed some rust there. And when he was throwing strikes, he seemed to not be on the corners. Not the command he normally has, balls were over the plate."
But on Saturday, Sandberg expects to see a version of Lee he's more familiar with.
"I would expect some improvement," Sandberg said. "Knowing Cliff, a guy that knows about making adjustments from one outing to the next -- sometimes making adjustments within a game -- I see him making those adjustments. Also, he'll probably add a little bit of stamina since his last outing, from what he's done conditioning-wise. And just having that initial outing of the way."
Lee's hefty contract, recent injury history and shaky return have made a him a risky -- and therefore, unlikely -- trade target, but his counterpart on Saturday night, Josh Collmenter, has been anything but shaky recently.
Collmenter has done a nice job in the D-backs' rotation since moving from the bullpen in mid-April. The right-hander, who's 8-5 with a 3.64 ERA, is coming off back-to-back seven-inning, one-run efforts.
Phillies: Amaro reiterates confidence in Howard
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Friday afternoon that he believes Ryan Howard still has a future with the Phillies.
"I fully expect him to be our first baseman next year," Amaro said. "I don't know where people are coming up with him not having a future with us. He's a very big part of our organization."
Sandberg benched Howard for the third consecutive game Friday, and he said Thursday there could be a platoon situation at first base going forward. Howard, the highest paid player in baseball this season, is owed at least $60 million through 2017, which makes the possibility of a platoon a strong indication the Phillies are looking at other options for the future.
Sources also said the Phillies have discussed multiple scenarios about Howard's future, including the possibility of releasing him in the offseason. Asked about that, Amaro said, "All I can tell you is that's not in our best interest. It's not something that we've discussed."
Amaro denied that it's a matter of a player not being good enough to play every day. Instead, he said, it is a measure meant to get the veteran slugger back on track.
"Let him mentally get regrouped," Amaro said. "Listen, everyone needs a break. And I think that's more of what this is about than anything else. All of us want Ryan to be back and for Ryan to be as productive as he can be. I think that's the goal. ... We're hopeful.
D-backs: Gibson in favor of big league taste for Bradley
D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said a taste of the big leagues at some point this year would help top prospect Archie Bradley in 2015, but that it's too soon to say when, or if, that will happen.
"What I want Archie to do is continue to throw the ball well like he did his last start, get on a roll and be prepared for an opportunity should it arise," Gibson said.
Bradley, who is pitching for Double-A Mobile, allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings Saturday and struck out 10 while walking just one. It was the 21-year-old's fifth start for Mobile after being shut down earlier this summer with some elbow discomfort.
Bradley lost out in a battle to win the No. 5 spot in the D-backs' rotation during Spring Training and then was set back with the elbow problem, but he still could find his way to the Majors this year before all is said and done.
"You come up and get a taste, it's valuable going into next year, for sure," Gibson said. "Any experience he could get would certainly be valuable going into next year."
• The Phillies have not lost a series to the D-backs since a three-game set from April 25-27, 2011, in Arizona. They are 5-0-1 in the last six series against the D-backs.
• Grady Sizemore, who hit safely in each of his first seven games as a Phillie after being summoned from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on July 11, collected his 1,000th career on Friday night.
• Paul Goldschmidt entered the series leading the Majors in on-base percentage (.476) since June 7. His 38 walks during that span were also most in baseball.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.