Left-hander Chris Lee’s first career Grapefruit League start wasn’t as efficient as his previous outing, but it still produced similar results.
In some way, the fact that Lee managed to throw three scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night despite struggling with his control throughout was impressive enough in the Orioles’ 2-2 nine-inning tie at Ed Smith Stadium.
Lee was scheduled to throw four innings Thursday, but his high pitch total – his night included six full-count at-bats -- allowed him only three frames. He allowed five base runners – two singles, two walks and one J.J. Hardy fielding error – but escaped without allowing a run.
Lee acknowledged he was nervous going into the start, saying he had trouble sleeping the previous night.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Lee, who threw strikes on just 34 of his 66 pitches. “It was definitely a little different from waiting so long to start, the injury last year and coming back from it and being in the bullpen the first couple games. Starting just felt right. It felt like I was getting back to it and I feel like overall the first start was pretty good. It threw up some zeros and was happy with the results.”
Lee earned the opportunity to start after throwing three scoreless innings in his prior spring training outing Friday against the Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers. His start Thursday, as well as right-hander Gabriel Ynoa’s start Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton are serving as a mid-March audition for a possible rotation opening with right-hander Chris Tillman’s return uncertain.
Lee might have received a big league opportunity last season – the team was desperate for left-handed relief help until Donnie Hart emerged as the club’s situational lefty – had a lat muscle injury not ended his season after just eight outings with Double-A Bowie.
After Thursday’s outing, Lee has allowed just two runs over 11 innings in four Grapefruit League appearances for a 1.64 ERA, and has now logged back-to-back scoreless outings.
"He’s got a good arm, good stuff," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He pitched through it. ... I think sometimes his ball moves so much that he has to almost locate a little too much instead of attacking the middle of the plate and letting the natural life take over."
Lee ran into trouble early, allowing the first two runners he faced to reach base on Cesar Hernandez’s leadoff single and Roman Quinn’s sharp grounder that got past Hardy. But as he has throughout spring training, Lee was able to get key groundouts, inducing a 6-4-3 double play from Howie Kendrick to help get him out of the first. Two batters later, he stranded runners at the corners with another groundout.
“I had too many deep counts as I would have liked, but I just tried to trust my stuff and stay down in the zone and [be] more efficient and the results came out and I got my ground balls,” Lee said. “Once the runners got on base, my main focus was to not let them score and try to get a ground ball and get out of it.”
Orioles end no-hit bit in ninth, tie game
The Orioles were two outs away from being no-hit, but rallied in the ninth to tie the game.
Chris Dickerson had the Orioles’ first hit of the night with a single to right off Phillies reliever Michael Mariot, and then minor leaguer Sean Coyle sent the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence for a game-tying home run.
Coyle -- who has played in 11 Grapefruit League games, mostly in the late innings – has hit two homers this spring and has driven in five runs in eight plate appearances. A former third-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, Coyle battled injuries the past two seasons.
The Orioles drew seven walks on the night, including two by Hardy, but entered the ninth still without a hit.
Davis searching for hits
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was struck out in all three of his plate appearances Thursday and is now 0-for-10 over his past four spring games.
Davis, who will get additional at-bats playing in Friday’s B game in Sarasota, is now 3-for-21 this spring. He recently missed five days between games because he was sidelined with bronchitis.
Drake allows homer
Right-hander Oliver Drake allowed a leadoff homer to Phillies first baseman Andrew Knapp, the first batter he faced in his two-inning outing, marking the fourth time he has been scored upon in seven spring outings.
Drake threw his first multiple-inning outing of the spring, allowing four hits while striking out two, but has now allowed eight runs in eight Grapefruit League innings for a 9.00 ERA.
The Phillies' other run came on Ryan Hanigan’s two-out RBI single in the fourth off minor league pitcher Ryan Meisinger.
Gentry’s hustle worth mentioning
Right fielder Craig Gentry’s hustle on the first play of the game likely saved Lee’s scoreless first inning, and put his outfield range on display.
Gentry cut off Hernandez’s leadoff single into the right-center-field gap with a sliding stop to prevent the ball from rolling to the wall, holding it to a single. Hernandez was eventually stranded at third.
“That’s one of those things that analytics will never be able to capture,” Showalter said. “If you want to look back, a play in the first inning won a ballgame. People talk about infielders diving for balls and knocking them down with a man on second even though he can’t make a play at first. That’s an example of a play that an athletic guy dives and keeps a ball from going in the gap. If he doesn’t they score a bunch of runs [in the first].”