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CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) — Cliff Lee will work in a side bullpen session Sunday when Philadelphia’s pitchers throw to hitters for the first time in camp.

Lee is nursing a minor abdominal injury. He’s expected to step back into line with the rest of the star-studded pitching staff in the coming week.

Although Lee has had abdominal injuries that have led to trips to the disabled list in the past, including two springs ago while with Seattle, he shrugged off his current pain as “just a precautionary deal.”

“It’s similar to the ab strains I’ve had in the past,” Lee said. “Basically the early stages of that in the past I tried to power through it. I’m trying to be smarter with it now and keep it a small issue.”

Lee similarly had a minor blip on his early spring training radar a year ago, when he complained of a minor strained muscle in his left side. But the left-hander didn’t miss any time in the exhibition or regular season schedule and finished his first full season in Philadelphia 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA and a major league-best six shutouts.

For the 33-year-old Lee, the 2012 regular season can’t arrive soon enough after having the sting of last postseason with him throughout the winter.

A season that began with World Series-or-bust ambitions and an ace-laden starting pitching staff ended with the Phillies losing to St. Louis in the first round of the playoffs. Lee, who signed a five-year, $120 million contract to join the Phillies two winters ago, figured prominently in the first-round exit.

In Game 2 against the Cardinals, Lee was spotted a 4-0 lead after two innings but gave up five runs on 12 hits in a 5-4 loss. The Phillies lost the series in a decisive Game 5.

“It was disappointing the way it ended, but we got beat by a team that was peaking at the right time, they won the World Series,” Lee said. “We got flat-out beat.

Personally I wish I could go back and pitch Game 2 again. I had a 4-0 lead. But that’s the only thing I contributed to in the postseason and I let that lead slip away, so that was disappointing for me.”

Lee is one of a handful of veterans who have come to the Phillies for the opportunity to win the first World Series ring of their respective careers. Jim Thome signed up in November while former Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay and All-Star Placido Polanco arrived two winters ago.

Others with similar aspirations have come and gone: Roy Oswalt, who remains a free agent, and Raul Ibanez, who recently signed with the New York Yankees.

Although the makeup of the team changed — Joe Blanton, coming off a season-long elbow injury, replaces Oswalt in the rotation — Lee believes the same winning pieces are in place.

“I think our talent level is a lot like last year. It’s off the charts,” said Lee, who saw the Phillies add Thome and All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon this winter. “We’ve got high expectations, and we’ve got the talent to back it up. Our goal is to win the World Series, just like every team should be. I like our chances based on our talent and makeup and chemistry and all that stuff. It’s going to be a fun year.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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