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Cliff Lee's comeback struggles continue

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the potential target of teams looking for a front end of the rotation hurler, was less than impressive Monday night in his first game back after missing two months with an elbow injury.

Lee tossed 5 2/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants, treating them to 12 hits and six earned runs. At least he got the ball over the plate. He only walked one while striking out three.

The outing caused Lee's formerly sparkling 3.18 ERA to shoot up nearly half a point to 3.67.

Lee is a pitcher who could fit the St. Louis Cardinals need for a number two starter behind ace Adam Wainwright. And he would likely be considerably cheaper than Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price in terms of the prospects St. Louis would have to trade because of his age, 35, and because the Birds would give the Phillies some salary relief for this year and next.

You could chalk the bad showing up to rust. But Lee seemed to get progressively worse in his minor league rehab stint. In his last start for Class A Clearwater he got pounded by the kids. He left the Florida State League with more hits allowed than innings pitched, a .295 batting average against and a 5.06 ERA.

Lee's only got a couple more starts to go before the trade deadline during which he needs to prove that he's still an elite pitcher. Otherwise, the Phillies are going to have a tough time finding a team willing to take his $25 million per year contract that pays him through 2015 with a healthy buyout for 2016.

There has been speculation that Lee would be a candidate for an August trade. But if I was Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, I'm not sure if I'd place a waiver claim for a pitcher who makes so much money when he could very well be damaged goods.

If the Redbirds traded with Philly before the deadline, they could demand the selling team reimburse them for a chunk of Lee's salary. But if Philadelphia puts Lee on waivers and someone claims him, it's likely to walk away and let the claiming team pay all the freight.