As late as one month ago, Zach Lee's initial transition to Double-A Chattanooga wasn't going well. He was 0-3 with a 7.58 ERA after suffering an Aug. 1 loss to Huntsville. Flash forward to this week, when he will make the start in either Game 1 or 2 in the Lookouts' Southern League divisional series with Jackson as the team's undeniable ace.
A lot can certainly change in a month's time, and Lee showed that yet again Sunday night.
The Dodgers' top prospect allowed three hits and struck out six over six innings in Chattanooga's 7-0 win at Birmingham.
The victory marked the 20-year-old right-hander's fourth win in his last five starts. In his last six starts -- all of which have come immediately following that Aug. 1 defeat -- he has allowed just six earned runs in 36 innings. That's good enough for a 1.50 ERA, fifth-best among all Double-A hurlers. No other Lookout ranks in the level's top 30 in the category over that span.
"It's huge," Lee said. "I want to build on each start I make and come on strong. You never want to have that bittersweet taste of going into the playoffs but entering it after a rough start. It's been really good for me to be working on going in with a really strong string of starts here."
That recent stretch puts Lee, who missed the playoffs last year in Class A Great Lakes, in position to take the hill for what could be the most pressure-packed game of his two-year professional career when the Lookouts take on the Generals for a five-game series starting Thursday.
"During my time in the Minor Leagues, yeah, probably, it's going to be my biggest game," said the Texas native. "Getting at least one win on the road will be pretty big for us, so we can take it back home for three games with it being 1-1 or 2-0 for us. No matter what, it's going to be a big game."
On Sunday, Lee displayed what he'd be capable of in such a playoff scenario.
After allowing two consecutive singles with two outs in the first inning, the right-hander didn't allow another hit until the sixth, his last of the night. His six strikeouts were one shy of his Double-A high, established in his first outing with the Lookouts on June 27.
In a true sign of dominance, all of that came with MLB.com's No. 34 prospect utilizing only two pitches in his arsenal.
"I spotted my fastball really well and had a really good slider today," he said. "Really those two carried me. I didn't have to go deep into my repertoire with the curveball or the changeup. ... Even early on, when I was throwing my warmups, I knew I had some stuff going. When that happens, you just go with what's working."
With Sunday's contest being his last in the regular season, Lee will close his sophomore season with a 6-6 record, 4.39 ERA and 103 strikeouts over 121 innings and 25 starts between Chattanooga and Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga.
Those aren't entirely eye-popping statistics, but the way the season has ended, the Texas native seemed more than pleased with the way his year has gone while contending that there is room for even more improvement.
"The way I look at it, I haven't missed a lot of spots here as the season ends," Lee said. "I was missing bad early in the season. But my stuff's getting better, my command's better. It's been a great, great season in that regard. Going through this stretch of starts has been great for me, and hopefully I can end it on an even better note with some more good starts in the playoffs."
Steve Smith and Geison Aguasviva closed out Sunday's win with three perfect innings in relief of Lee. J.T. Wise led the Lookouts offense doubled, walked twice, drove in three runs and scored once.