Lee, however, won’t be the only potential impact player in the AL West to make his first appearance of 2010 at Safeco Field.
Standout second baseman Ian Kinsler(notes) will make his return to Texas’ lineup in hopes of spoiling the former Cy Young Award winner’s party, as each promising club tries to close its mediocre April with a victory.
The Mariners (11-11) created perhaps the most intimidating pairing of pitchers in the majors when they acquired Lee from the Phillies in the offseason to go along with emerging star Felix Hernandez(notes), but the southpaw has spent the last several weeks recovering from a strained abdomen.
Lee, who went 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA with Cleveland and Philadelphia last year after winning the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with the Indians, may have expedited his return by undergoing experimental platelet-rich plasma injections on his injury.
“I’m anxious. I can’t speed up the clock,” Lee said. “Friday, it’s just go out there and have fun. Let it all hang out.”
Lee will be on a pitch count of around 100, a fact that may affect the Rangers’ approach against him. He has a 7.09 ERA in eight starts versus Texas, his highest against any AL opponent.
“First day coming off the DL, I hope we can get his pitch count up and get him out of there by the third inning, then we don’t have to worry about him,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “Hopefully he’s excited and he tries to overthrow. It’s going to be a challenge. The guy can pitch.”
It will certainly help Texas (10-12) having Kinsler in the lineup after he started the season on the disabled list with a sprained right ankle. Kinsler is 7 for 13 (.538) against Lee.
Kinsler hit a career-low .253 last year but had career highs with 31 home runs and 31 stolen bases, and the Rangers hope his presence in the middle of their lineup will solidify an offense that is without injured slugger Nelson Cruz(notes).
“I really don’t think anything is going to hold me back,” Kinsler said.
The Rangers have won five of eight following a six-game losing streak, getting a boost lately from highly touted first base prospect Justin Smoak(notes). The rookie hit his first major league home run and added a double in a 7-4 loss to Chicago on Thursday.
Like Texas, Seattle has aspirations of retaking the AL West title and remains hopeful despite its unspectacular start.
The Mariners stayed afloat by going 7-2 on their first homestand. They finished their recent six-game road trip with back-to-back victories over Kansas City after four consecutive losses.
Even without Lee, the Mariners rank among the AL leaders with a 3.37 ERA, helping to compensate for a meek offense.
“I want to contribute and do my part,” Lee said.
Lewis (3-0, 3.80) spent the last two years in Japan and hadn’t earned a major league win since 2004, but he has three victories in his first four starts. He allowed four runs in the first two innings Sunday against Detroit but retired 16 straight at one point and struck out 10 in an 8-4 win.
“He got off to a rough start, but he righted the ship,” Washington said. “… He showed he can come out there and struggle, and still get it done.”
The right-hander was sharp against the Mariners on April 9, allowing one run in seven innings of a 6-2 home win. The Rangers took two of three in that series.