CHICAGO -- The White Sox, neck and neck with the Twins in the American League Central Division race, have reason to play close attention to Cliff Lee's neck this weekend. At the moment, Lee's neck is still bothering him to the point where he is questionable -- perhaps even doubtful -- for Sunday's start in the Indians' regular-season finale. That would be good news for the Sox, who would probably rather face right-hander Bryan Bullington than Lee, the 22-game winner and likely AL Cy Young Award recipient.
Lee, who skipped his bullpen session on Thursday, played catch at U.S. Cellular Field before Friday's game, and his stiff neck was still nagging him. "I still feel it a little bit," he said. "Hopefully it's something that goes away. I want to pitch and do my job, but my body's got to be ready, too." Pitching coach Carl Willis said the Indians will make their decision on Lee (22-3, 2.54 ERA) on Saturday. But the fact that the neck was still a problem Friday does not bode well for Lee making his 32nd start and making a third run at win No. 23. "I'm not putting myself in a position to get hurt any worse," Lee said. Lee said his neck began bothering him two or three days before his start at Fenway Park on Tuesday night. He gave up five runs on nine hits over seven innings against the Red Sox to suffer his first loss since July 6. "It almost feels like I slept on it weird," he said of the neck. "It's a little more sore now than before, because I pitched the other night. Hopefully it's one of those things that just fades away and isn't serious." The White Sox, who entered this three-game weekend set a half-game behind the Twins in a tight division race, probably wouldn't mind it much if Lee just faded away. After all, he is 1-0 with a 0.53 ERA in two starts against them this season. Actually, though, the Sox would be catching Lee at his most vulnerable point of the season. Perhaps as a result of fatigue from racking up a career-high 223 1/3 innings this season, he has a 1-1 record and a 5.06 ERA over his last three starts. Manager Eric Wedge had said earlier in the week that he would probably sit Lee if Chicago's fate in the Central was settled by Sunday. But the neck issue has made him questionable, regardless of the standings. Bullington worked five innings of long relief on Wednesday night but was limited to 60 pitches so that he'd be available to pitch on Sunday, if need be. A former No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates, Bullington is 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA in two appearances, including one spot start, for the Tribe. "We've got to take care of Cliff, obviously," Wedge said. "We want to make sure if he goes out there, he's OK."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.