PHILADELPHIA -- One of the biggest potential chips at the trading deadline, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, is on track for a return from the disabled list around the All-Star break, following a bullpen session Tuesday.
After throwing between 40 and 50 pitches in two segments, separated by a five-minute break, Lee pronounced himself to be "still progressing" from what was originally described as a mild strain of the flexor pronator muscle in his left elbow. The 35-year-old left-hander hasn't pitched since complaining of elbow soreness after throwing 116 pitches in a May 18 start against the Cincinnati Reds.
Lee said his next step will be to throw a simulated game either Friday or Saturday, "depending on how I feel [Wednesday] and the next day, obviously." Barring setbacks, he then would start a minor league rehab option sometime next week and could return just before or just after the All-Star break, depending on whether the Phillies think he needs two rehab starts or three.
Asked how many minor league starts he thinks he'll need to get ready, Lee said: "I really don't know. I just know I have a [simulated] game next time, and I haven't looked too much past that, to be honest with you."
Although he described himself as pain-free, Lee again said, as he did following his first bullpen session over the weekend, that he still feels "barely something" in his elbow when he throws, "but it's not getting any worse. It's continuing to get better. ... I continue to do more, and it's not going backwards. So, that's a good thing."
If the Phillies are out of contention at the trading deadline, they are expected to listen to offers for many of their veteran players. But other clubs have told ESPN.com that they expect the Phillies to aggressively attempt to move Lee, who is signed through 2015 and has a minimum of $50 million left on his contract over the next season and a half. That figure could grow to $62.5 million if he vests his option for 2016.
Teams that have spoken with the Phillies say the club has indicated it is willing to eat a significant portion of Lee's salary if it gets the right pieces back in a trade.
Lee was 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts before going on the disabled list. In the six starts in which he received a loss or a no-decision, the Phillies scored a total of eight runs while he was in the game.