Dodgers prospect Zach Lee did not face the Mobile BayBears during his first taste of the Southern League last year. Now he's making a habit of putting up zeros against them.
MLB.com's No. 72 overall prospect allowed two hits and a walk walk while striking out seven batters over six innings Tuesday night in Double-A Chattanooga's 1-0 blanking of the BayBears.
"My stuff is better [than last year] and my location is better," Lee said. "Everything is becoming a lot sharper. The hitters will tell you how good your stuff is when they take a lot of quality pitches. It's one of the biggest indicators, how they take pitches and how they swing at pitches and how they approach you.
"A lot of guys are starting to respect my fastball and how I locate it. Hitters are trying to hunt for it. When I have my off-speed early, I can get ahead with my fastball and then go off-speed later in counts."
Lee erased Mike Freeman's leadoff walk in the opening inning with a double play, then worked around one-out singles by Jon Griffin and Keon Broxton in the second. After that, he was in command, retiring his final 12 batters before turning over a 1-0 lead to the bullpen.
"I thought I threw the ball really well," said Lee, selected 28th overall in the 2010 Draft. "I got off to a slow start as far as locating my pitches, but by the third or fourth inning I got in synch with my body and threw the ball down in the zone. And I think the stats show that."
The 21-year-old right-hander lowered his ERA to 2.67, which ranks seventh in the league. Lee said one of the secrets to his success Tuesday night was control of his fastball, which allowed him to experiment with his other pitches to see which worked best.
"I was really just establishing the fastball early and often and I was trying to use it both in and out the entire game and let everything else dictate off that," he explained. "Everything works off the fastball, that's what I believe. If you establish it early, your other stuff improves because you're throwing quality pitches. Everything correlates to the fastball arm slot and fastball extension.
"My game plan was to throw the fastball early in counts and figure out what breaking pitch I had the best. I try to go through the lineup once or twice with two pitches, then mix in the others. When I have the slider working the way it is supposed to, it is a big pitch for getting me deep into games. I used it as a putaway pitch and early in counts."
It was the second time the Dodgers' top pitching prospect has faced the BayBears this month. On May 7, he gave up three hits and a walk over six scoreless frames.
"I don't really know if it is something with this particular team, but I've had my good stuff against them," Lee said. "They have a couple pretty hitters -- Nick Evans and Jon Griffin can hurt you with the deep ball and Broxton is a guy you have to worry about. I didn't know a whole lot about them because we only played them one series this year."
Lee made 13 starts in the Southern League a year ago, going 4-3 with a 4.25 ERA and 51 strikeouts over 65 2/3 innings.
"It was a great experience just to get my feet wet and really get used to this league and the travel that goes with it and improve my pitchability," he said. "It gave me something to improve on, and there is definitely still work to do. I still think my stuff needs to be sharper and my location has to get better, but I'm making steps in the right direction."
Hector Nelo followed Lee and worked two perfect innings before Jose Dominguez pitched around a hit and a walk in the ninth to earn his third save.
Mobile starter Andrew Chafin (1-4) took the hard-luck loss, allowing a run on four hits over six innings. He struck out five, walked three and lowered his ERA to 3.00