The Orioles optioned left-hander Chris Lee to Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday, ending his stint in major league camp after two audition starts for a rotation spot but not eliminating him from contention for that job, manager Buck Showalter said.
“He might still be,” Showalter said. “We’ve got until [April 15] to pick that guy. [Gabriel] Ynoa’s pitching [Saturday] and [Jayson] Aquino is pitching the next day. Anybody we send down, it doesn’t mean they’re not our fifth starter.”
Lee has posted a 2.77 ERA (four earned runs in 13 innings) over five Grapefruit League appearances, including two starts. But the most recent game he pitched was frustrating and seemingly ended his bid to take the turns that will be missed by Chris Tillman in the rotation during April.
However, Showalter said the move was made because there are starting to be too many starting pitching candidates in camp, with fellow rotation competitors Ynoa, Aquino and Tyler Wilson all scheduled to start the Orioles’ next three games.
Given the team’s roster situation and schedule, it’s possible the person who starts when the Orioles first need a fifth starter on April 15 will start at least once at Triple-A Norfolk before joining the major league rotation.
If it’s Lee, it will be partially because of the impression he made in camp, especially coming off a lat strain in his left shoulder that caused him to make just eight appearances last season.
“Chris has got a good arm,” Showalter said. “I like the way he can pitch with his fastball in the strike zone. It’s going to give him an opportunity to work on secondary pitches. He’s got a chance to help us this year. … We talked to him about [the process]. It was more about questioning him. I wanted to hear about what he had to say about what he’s gotten out of this and what he thinks, what kind of mindset he’s going down there with and what he wants to work on and do. He knows it’s about production, too. It’s a fine line between going down and working on something and trying to put your best foot forward every night. It’s exciting to have an arm like that in our rotation in Triple-A.
“The big thing was getting him back healthy. He feels great. That was good. He had a pretty tough injury last year that took a long time to get back from. I applaud our guys. They were real cautious with him to get him back, and he physically probably feels as good as he has in a long time. He’s put on some weight, he’s in good shape and I’ll tell you, I’m expecting a good year from him and [him] being there for us when we need him.”