SEATTLE -- There won't be a red carpet on the field for left-hander Cliff Lee on Friday night, but his long-awaited and much-anticipated regular-season debut with the Mariners is sure to have an Opening Night-like buzz at Safeco Field.

"I am excited to get back and contribute," Lee said. "It has been tough watching everyone else out there every day, grinding it out, and me having to sit, watch and not be able to help. It has been frustrating, but it's over for me now and it's time to get back to work.

"I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be fun."

Lee said he has been mentally preparing for the Rangers since last Monday, the day after he pitched six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Tacoma.

"My sights have been set on them for several days now," he said, "and I'm preparing the best I can for them."

The Rangers have historically been a tough matchup for Lee. He has a career record of 5-3 against them and a 7.09 ERA in 45 2/3 innings. The last time he faced them was on April 6, 2009, and he surrendered seven earned runs in five innings, absorbing one of his 13 losses last season.

But it's a new day, a new team, all new circumstances for the lefty who was acquired from the Phillies in a three-for-one trade last December.

A series of events, which included a pre-Spring Training foot injury that required surgery, a strained lower right abdominal muscle and a five-game suspension -- which eventually was rescinded -- hanging over his head, Lee's debut was delayed for almost a month.

The original plan was for him to pitch the second game of the regular season in Oakland. But the injuries kept him in the trainer's room while the Mariners went on without him, and held their own, posting an 11-11 record during his absence.

"We knew coming out of Spring Training we had some challenges not having Cliff throwing every fifth day, but there are some guys who have stepped up," manager Don Wakamatsu said.

The Mariners are glad to have Lee available a few days earlier than expected. He suffered a strained lower right abdominal muscle on March 15 during a Cactus League game against the Diamondbacks.

"We're gaining a Cy Young guy and increasing our depth," Wakamatsu said. "That's pretty exciting."

This is what the Mariners had in mind when they acquired the 31-year-old left-hander and AL Cy Young Award winner in 2008 to a rotation that already included right-hander Felix Hernandez, a 19-game winner last season.

Finally, Seattle fans finally get a chance to see this one-two punch in action.

Lee starts Friday night on "Felix Hernandez Bobblehead Night" and Hernandez (2-1, 2.23 ERA) starts Saturday's game. Right-hander Doug Fister (2-1, 1.67 ERA) stars on Sunday, completing a series that might be called "Top Guns" against the Rangers.

All eyes will be on Lee during Friday night's game.

Though the veteran lefty threw just 65 pitches in the Minor League rehab start in Tacoma, Lee has been cleared to throw up to 100 pitches against the Rangers, and he hopes that gets him into, if not beyond, the seventh inning.

"Throwing 100 pitches shouldn't be a problem at all," Lee said. "The main thing is that I have thrown all my pitches and I feel good where I am."

The Tacoma tune-up went well.

"I felt good," Lee said after the stint. "I was throwing strikes. I didn't walk anybody, though I came close a couple times. But I threw strikes and forced them to swing the bat.

I definitely could have kept going. I felt strong the whole time. It's really more of a precautionary type deal to ease back into it. But physically, I felt like I could keep going. Still, it's better to be safe than sorry."

Lee said he has been impressed with the rotation he joins.

"It has been fun watching Fister, [Jason] Vargas and Felix pitch the way they have been pitching," Lee said. "Hopefully I can jump in with those guys and do what they've been doing."

The first step comes Friday night.