The 22-year-old pitcher only reached Double-A last year, three years after the Dodgers selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft. Only a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle suffered early in camp forced Lee to temper his expectations.
By waiting until Friday to make his Cactus League debut, Lee knows he’s ticketed to the minors to start the season.
“Anytime you set a goal you want to set it high,” he said. “If you set it too low, you’ll probably meet it and get content with it.”
Lee pitched two scoreless innings in the Dodgers’ 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers on Friday at Camelback Ranch. He allowed only two hits, walked none and had something to be proud of at the end of his long-awaited debut.
The right-hander from McKinney, Texas survived a loud leadoff double to Shin-Soo Choo — “a 2-1 fastball right down the middle that you don’t want to throw,” he said — to survive a 21-pitch first inning on consecutive ground-ball outs by Elvin Andrus, Mitch Moreland and Adrian Beltre.
After a smooth second inning in which he allowed a single to Jurickson Profar, Lee’s day was over. He faced eight hitters, almost all major leaguers, and did not look out of place on the mound.
“He just looks like he belongs around the clubhouse, around the fields. He does everything well,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s got a clean delivery. We feel like he’s going to be able to throw the ball where he wants. Just like in his composure — pretty much everything about him.”
Lee has a preternatural calm in the presence of almost anyone — reporter, major leaguer, minor leaguer. He said he’s tried to stay in the background like most rookies, while also trying to pick the veterans’ brains.
“I’ve talked a lot with (Josh) Beckett and (Zack) Greinke,” he said. “Probably Greinke a little more than Beckett from a baseball standpoint just because me and his game are kind of similar as far as our repertoire goes, how we pitch. It’s always good to get an outside perspective, especially with a guy who’s had the success he’s had and kind of the similar stuff we have and how we approach the game.”
Both pitchers share an analytical approach to baseball, something that impressed Dodgers management about Lee since his first days in the organization. Lee’s numbers in his second season at Double-A Chattanooga were better in almost every category in 2013, when he was named the organization’s pitcher of the year.
Lee took part in the Dodgers’ prospect camp at Dodger Stadium in January. Finally on Friday, he had a chance to show everyone what he’s gained since last season.
“Growing up, the way I looked at pitching, I was more of a cerebral, analytical person,” he said. “I really thought more kind of gameplanning and what (Greg) Maddux did back in the day, where he was able to pinpoint location rather than overpowering people. I kind of took after them and that’s where my game’s developed.”
Young power pitchers are often the first to reach the majors. The St. Louis Cardinals’ Shelby Miller, a 2012 draft pick who beat the Dodgers twice in last year’s National League Championship Series, is a protypical example.
Pitchers like Lee, who mix and match an assortment of pitches and rely more on location and guile, often take longer. This season marks his fourth in the organization and only his first major-league camp.
Lee said he threw all his pitches Friday and “some worked better than others.” For Mattingly, the first impression was a good one.
“I think that’s what you like about him: You see him around the clubhouse, the way he handles himself, gets after his work, does everything pretty well, takes fielding his position seriously, holding runners — all the things you don’t get a lot of attention for — but we like everything about him.”
Some more notes and observations:
• Outfielder Yasiel Puig did not play because he was excused to deal with a “personal matter,” according to the club. He’s expected to return Sunday. Puig was in the clubhouse Friday morning, attended the team meeting and was seen leaving for morning warmups. We’ll post what we know when we know it — which might not be until Sunday.
• Hanley Ramirez‘s two-run home run off Martin Perez gave the Dodgers all the offense they needed. It was the first extra-base hit of camp for Ramirez in his seventh game. His average is at .167 (3 for 18). Mattingly said Ramirez is “one of the guys I don’t worry about as long as he’s healthy.”
• Dee Gordon made another impressive play moving to his left at second base to snag a sharp ground ball. He drew a walk in two plate appearances and also helped turn a double play. “He doesn’t have any Gold Gloves yet,” Mattingly said. “We’re not quite ready to anoint him, but he’s playing well. Dee’s working hard and he seems to be continuing offensively to try to work with his bunts, getting on base, and he seems comfortable over there and sure of himself.”
• Tom Windle threw two scoreless innings and was awarded a fairly meaningless save. The 21-year-old left-hander allowed one hit, walked one batter and struck out another. He was selected in the second round of the 2013 draft; first-round pick Chris Anderson made his Cactus League debut Thursday. “Pretty good. He was aggressive in the strike zone. Didn’t seem like he was afraid of anything. Seemed like the kid yesterday too; both those guys were the same way, just kind of aggressive.”
• Chone Figgins played an error-free right field, his seventh position of spring training, and went 1-for-3 with two strikeouts at the plate.
• Brian Wilson, Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell and Chris Perez all threw scoreless innings.
• Brandon League allowed the only run by the Rangers on a single by Adrian Beltre, a walk, a sacrifice and an RBI groundout by Jurickson Profar.