Ryan Howard has been penciled into the lineup following yesterday's minor scare. But the real focus is on prized left-hander Cliff Lee.
There've been rumblings and grumblings that Lee hasn't been completely right since early in spring, a murmer that began when a rival scout saw him this spring and raised the possibility that he's been nursing a sore back. The scout's words were published in Sports Illustrated's baseball preview, with Lee front and center on the cover. The scout observed that Lee wasn't getting the downward tilt on his pitches the way we're accustomed to seeing. Certainly the tilt went missing in his last start, a 3 1-3 inning pelting against Atlanta, in which he surrendered 10 hits, a walk and six runs. Lee coped with a strained side muscle this offseason, a story that only surfaced when he first arrived in Clearwater. He described it as "new pain," under his arm pit. Although he took his regular turns, the results were fairly poor. The Phils are hoping his 11-strikeout performance against the Astros on April 2 is the rule, and not the exception. Suffice it to say, it's time to start paying attention.
Tonight's lineup: Victorino 8, Polanco 5, Rollins 6, Howard 3, Francisco 9, Ibanez 7, Ruiz 2, Valdez 4, Lee 1. For the Nats, it goes Desmond 6, Ankiel 8, Werth 9, Laroche 3, Ramos 2, Morse 7, Espinosa 4, Hairston 5, Zimmermann 1.