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Cal notes: Lee calls on football lessons
04/25/2012 10:42 AM ET
Baseball has seen its share of talented young athletes who excel in two sports. Rancho Cucamonga right-hander Zach Lee was a notable example in 2010 when he faced a tough decision between playing quarterback for SEC power Louisiana State University or pitching in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

Lee took the Dodgers' offer of $5.25 million and made his professional debut with Class A Great Lakes last year. This season, he's pitching very close to what he hopes will soon be his baseball home in Los Angeles as the No. 2 guy behind Clayton Kershaw in the Dodgers rotation.

The Dodger tradition and history pushed the young right-hander, and the organization's past, present and future helped Lee decide that Los Angeles was where he eventually wanted to be.

"The pitching staff and coaches they have in the big leagues really influenced by decision," he said. "It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up."

Lee is looking toward the future but is rooted in the present.

"Every day I have to come out here and work and prove myself once again," he said.

For him, that means developing the tools that make him the Dodgers' top prospect. Lee relies on his natural ability to throw hard and locate the ball, but he has worked intensely to master his control through repetition of his delivery and a few other tricks he's picked up along the way, like the stutter step he has worked into his bullpen throwing routine.

"[It] helps me stay back," he said. "I rush down the slope, especially early in my warmups. I pause at the top and keep my balance on the back foot before I drive through."

Lee works with an impressive array of five pitches -- fastball, sinker, curveball, slider, changeup -- and early in the 2012 season he says he feels most comfortable with his two fastballs and the slider. He can also throw his curve for strikes but has admitted his changeup needs more work.

The right-hander earned his first win of the year on April 21 despite allowing his highest run total so far (five runs, three earned). He also struck out a season-high nine batters in 6 1/3 innings. Lee broke through for the win after getting two no-decisions and a loss in his first three outings. He has maintained his impeccable control with three walks over 21 1/3 total innings so far.

He also hasn't abandoned football completely. Though he didn't get the chance to play for LSU's 2011 NCAA championship team, Lee still uses his football smarts to get ahead in pitching, like the ability to wipe the slate clean and make the next play.

"Especially as a quarterback, you have to be able to forget your mistakes," he said. "You have to keep your team in the game as long as possible, which translates to pitching."

In brief

Stockton's finest: Stockton right-hander T.J. Walz leads the Ports pitching staff in two key categories with 17 strikeouts and a 1.04 ERA, and he is near the top with 19 1/3 innings over his first three starts. He and fellow righty Blake Treinen (who leads the club with 19 2/3 innings) have picked up four of Stockton's 10 wins so far.

Hot in High Desert: Mavericks third baseman Stefen Romero has carried a hot bat through the first weeks of the season. He's hitting .386 (27-for-70) and is third in the Cal League with 16 RBIs. Romero is tied for the league lead in hits and he's hit safely in eight of his last 10 games.

Keeping up: Visalia left-hander David Holmberg is keeping pace with teammate Andrew Chafin, posting 27 strikeouts over four starts. Holmberg suffered his second loss in a row on April 22 but struck out seven batters.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.