CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Most Phillies fans knew that Cliff Lee would be the club's Opening Day starter on March 31 in Texas.
Ryne Sandberg finally made it official on Monday. He announced Lee would start the first game of the 2014 season after the Phillies' Grapefruit League game against the Orioles was cancelled because of rain.
"Easy call," Sandberg said about Lee. "Easy call based on everything. Obvious reasons. Last year, All-Star. The way he's pitching this spring, easy call."
"It's definitely an honor to be the Opening Day starter," Lee said. "I look forward to it. I'm ready to go. It's coming on us pretty quick. It's two weeks away, so I'm ready to go."
Lee went 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA in 31 starts last season. He might have edged Cole Hamels for the honor based on a strong 2013, but Hamels' left shoulder injury ensured Lee would get the nod over the other pitchers in the rotation.
Hamels is several weeks behind schedule. He seems unlikely to pitch in April, although it hasn't been ruled out.
"We look good," Lee said of the rotation. "Obviously, Cole being injured isn't good, but we get him back and we're going to be pretty strong. Health is the key to everything. If we stay healthy and continue to go out there, then we'll have a solid chance and give the team a chance a lot."
The Phillies could open the season with a four-man rotation, because they do not need a fifth starter until April 14, which is 13 games into the season. If Hamels is not ready by then, right-hander Jonathan Pettibone could be.
"It's right at 50-50," Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said about a four-man rotation. "It's just a thought. We have guys who are building up along with other guys. We'll just see how health-wise we come out of this and go from there. With the off days, if you're pitching on your fifth day, that's not pushing them. No one is going to pitch on their fourth day. If they have bad weather, they might pitch on the sixth day. You're not really pushing anything."
Pettibone, who is behind schedule after experiencing inflammation in his right shoulder earlier this spring, threw 50 pitches in a live batting practice session Monday in the indoor facility at Carpenter Complex.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less