Perhaps knowing what a comparison to the game's greatest closer would mean, Orioles manager Buck Showalter held back after invoking the name of closer Zach Britton when describing what has worked so well during left-hander Chris Lee's second major league spring training.
Lee, who tossed three scoreless innings in Friday's 4-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox, has now gone eight innings over three outings this spring, and of the 24 outs he has recorded, 13 have been groundouts. Eight others have been strikeouts. Showalter owes that to something few pitchers have, but Britton has made a living with over his three seasons as closer and Lee is showing signs of as well.
"Just been able to pitch in the strike zone," Showalter said after the game. "Not necessarily command, but not many guys can pitch in the strike zone with their fastball. He's got some pretty impressive movement. Late life. I'll tell you, [pitching coach] Roger [McDowell] and him and [bullpen coach] Alan [Mills], it's been good that Alan had him some last year [at Double-A Bowie]. The changeup and slider are a little better than he's carried in the past, but it's fun to watch.
"Tempo is very much like Wade Miley. If anything, he's got to slow down a little bit, but he's got a good, fast arm, a lot of sink. Roger will talk about, you know, you're not going to find many guys who are going to pitch in the strike zone. It's like Zach. I'm not trying to throw that together with Zach, but it's a very similar approach. Interesting."
Lee, who the team acquired in 2015 for international signing bonus slots from the Houston Astros, has always been a heavy ground-ball pitcher. He cleaned up his delivery a bit once he came to the Orioles and made it to Bowie late that season.
He was added to the 40-man roster ahead of the 2016 season, and went 5-0 with a 2.98 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts) with the Baysox before a strained lat in his left shoulder area ultimately shut him down for the season.
Because of the injury, Lee missed an almost assured opportunity to make his major league debut, as the team was desperate for left-handed pitching and called up several starters in long relief to provide innings. Lee isn't lamenting the missed opportunity, but is eager to make up for it.
"It was a little hard to watch, but God has a plan," Lee said. "It's a missed opportunity, but it doesn't mean I'm not going to get another chance this year or the year after that. It's just staying the course and keeping on moving forward. The main part is just staying healthy."
He's doing that with the same sinker/cutter mix that has carried him this far, allowing himself to pitch to contact in a way that has impressed Showalter and gotten him results in the Grapefruit League.
"I threw a lot of cutter-sliders, two-seams, just trying to get quick easy outs and be as efficient as I can, and get as many hitters I can in the amount of pitches I have," Lee said. "I'm trying to get the most work in out of the stretch and windup as I can to get things going before the season starts."
"I think I've come out with the same ambition and drive to come out there and throw strikes. This offseason, I didn't sit on my butt the whole time. I worked hard to try and come back healthy and take this opportunity by storm and keep working hard every day until you get the opportunity to get to the big leagues and get part of the club and be part of a championship."