Cliff Lee went eight scoreless innings in Atlanta Thursday. (Credit: Getty Images) Cliff Lee will stop pitching for at least a week to see if his elbow discomfort continues. (Credit: Getty Images)

Could the first domino in the Phillies' ultimate demise have fallen Tuesday night?

Everyone knows the Phillies, though talented, are old (the second oldest team in baseball behind the Yankees) and need to stay completely healthy to compete for a playoff spot in the sluggish NL East.

But after Cliff Lee went for an elbow MRI and was later placed on the disabled list, it seems as though the beginning of the end could be near.


The diagonosis was a 1/2 grade elbow strain in his pitching arm.

Lee, 35, is 4-4 with a 3.18 ERA in 10 starts for this season. He was the Phillies’ Opening Day starter and last pitched on Sunday, May 18, in a win over the Reds. This will be Lee’s fifth career DL stint and first since April 19-May 8, 2012 (left oblique strain).

"It's pretty mild," Phillies GM Ruben Amaro told reporters. "But it is a strain and we want to be careful."

The Phillies seem to be ruling out Tommy John Surgery, which is a good sign, but it is likely Lee will need more than two weeks away from pitching to recover from his ailing elbow problem.

In the mean time, the Phillies have called up their slugging righty, Darin Ruf, to fill Lee's spot in the 25-man roster.

Ruf is batting .265 with three doubles, one home run and two RBI in nine games for Lehigh Valley in 2014. He missed the first month of the season after suffering a left oblique strain during spring training. He has 17 career homers in the big leagues.

When the Phillies do need a fifth starter, and they certainly do with 19 consecutive games without an off-day, including Wednesday night's game in Miami, ahead. They won't be off again until June 9.

In Lee's stead could be one of a bevy of unproven options. David Buchanan seems to be the top pick to be called up, a 25-year-old who has been solid but not dominating for Lehigh Valley.

Sean O'Sullivan and Greg Smith, also in Triple-A, are possible options, with Ethan Martin and Jonathan Pettibone not in the running (both are injured). Jesse Biddle, a top pitching prospect, is likely not ready to make the jump yet, but could leapfrog to Triple-A if someone ahead of him is called up.

The key now is if the Phillies can stay healthy and stay competitive with Lee, their top starting pitcher, out until at least early June.

If they can't, the end of the Phillies that fans know and love could be closer than we think.