It could prove to be a big break for the White Sox, who entered Saturday a half-game behind Minnesota for the AL Central lead.
Lee, who is 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA, said he started to feel some discomfort two days before his start against Boston on Sept. 23, when he gave up five runs and nine hits in seven innings. He said the soreness has increased the last few days.
"It wasn't as bad that day as it has been this past couple of days," Lee said Saturday. "It really came on two days before my last start. That's when I really started feeling it."
Lee said the discomfort caused him to change his pitching mechanics against the Red Sox, which then increased the soreness in his neck.
"I was throwing a little different," he said. "My mechanics were, I was trying to throw where I didn't feel it. I just kind of changed some things. Obviously, I was throwing 100-and-something pitches while dealing with that the whole time. I was a little more sore, which is what I'm dealing with now."
Cleveland manager Eric Wedge made the decision to scratch Lee, saying the risk wasn't worth the chance for one more start, especially with the Indians out of contention.
"It doesn't make any sense at all," Wedge said. "If his neck is bothering him, he has a chance to hurt himself. He could change his delivery and that changes everything. There's no way we're taking that chance."
Rookie right-hander Bryan Bullington will get the start in Lee's place, facing a White Sox team still in the running for the playoffs. Bullington is 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA.
Starting Sunday for the White Sox will be lefty Mark Buehrle on three days' rest. Buehrle threw 121 pitches in his last outing Wednesday against the Twins.
"We have to be careful. I know this game is very important to us, it's a do-or-die thing, but I've got to take care of those guys," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Saturday.
"Because if you get hurt, if something happens to you because we tried to win the pennant -- that's not fair."
Guillen said he would let Buehrle tell him how many pitches he could throw, but it wouldn't be 120.
If the White Sox need to play a makeup game Monday against the Tigers should they be a half-game behind or a half-game ahead of the Twins, Gavin Floyd will start for Chicago.
He would be opposed by Detroit's Freddy Garcia, who won three games for the White Sox in the 2005 postseason, including the clinching Game 4 of the World Series against the Astros.
Garcia was traded to the Phillies in December 2006 for Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. Garcia, trying to make a comeback with Detroit, is one of Guillen's best friends.
"He already sent me 20 text messages. Freddy wants to win. Believe me. He's going to be ready to beat us," Guillen said.