Zach Lee has endured an up-and-down season so far with the Albuquerque Isotopes.
It's almost been a literal up-and-down; when Lee is pitching up in the zone, opponents are hitting him hard. When he is down in the zone, he's pitching to the expectations of being the Dodgers' No. 4 prospect.
"You just can't pitch at this level or any level elevated," Isotopes manager Damon Berryhill said. "It's going to hurt you. But when he's on and he's down, he's as good as anybody. He's just got to get a little more consistent maintaining that down in the zone, staying there and trying to find it."
Lee has gone 4-4 with a 4.37 ERA in nine starts. It is not purely the Albuquerque effect that has raised Lee's ERA, as he has been better pitching at home (2-1, 2.78) than on the road (2-3, 5.84).
The Dodgers' first-round pick from 2010 said it is all part of the learning process.
"It can be hard," Lee said. "[But] it's one of those things that's the reason why we're here. If we could do it consistently, then most of us would probably be up in the big leagues. It's just a learning experience, trying to do some things to clean up and consistently keep the ball down."
Saying one will keep the ball down and then actually doing it is not that easy. Lee said it is not an issue with any specific pitch.
"It's one of those things that I'm working on, consistently getting the ball down and working at the bottom of the zone, like I did at the beginning of the year," the right-hander said.
Lee can throw four pitches -- fastball, slider, curveball, changeup -- for strikes, though none of them grade out as overpowering. In that regard, he almost has to be a groundball pitcher. Getting so many early in the season was not a reaction to pitching at altitude in Albuquerque, his manager said.
"That's the strategy anywhere," Berryhill said. "It goes for anybody. You want ground balls, especially [here]. You talk about Albuquerque, but there are a ton of big league ballparks that are small. You've got to be able to pitch down, that's the bottom line. You can't elevate it, guys are so big and strong now -- if you make mistakes up in the zone, they'll knock it out of the park."
Lee said the strategy is a sound one and one that will help him reach his goal of pitching in the Majors.
"Yeah, the more ground balls you get, it shows you're working at the bottom of the zone," Lee said. "Not a whole lot of hitters are going to hit the bottom-of-the-strike-zone ball up in the air a whole lot. If they do, it's probably not going to be hit very well. Ground balls are always good."
No more piggybacks: No. 6 Astros prospect Michael Foltynewicz had his issues adjusting to the organization's tandem starter system early in the season with Oklahoma City. Of late, however, Foltynewicz has thrived in four straight traditional starts, allowing just four runs in his last 21 innings.
Clutch Card: Top Cardinals prospect Oscar Taveras, who battled an ankle injury last season, is fully healthy and starting to show his hitting skills for Memphis. Through Saturday, Taveras has batted .436 (17-for-39) with 21 RBI with runners in scoring position for the Redbirds, the second-best mark in the PCL behind Reno's Nick Evans (.442).
Southern stars: Sacramento has benefited this year from a pair of hitters who came from colleges in Southern California. UCLA alum Alden Carrithers (.317, 22 RBIs) and Long Beach State alum Shane Peterson (.311, 3 HR, 18 RBIs) are the River Cats' top two players in batting average.