Lee, 25, was the Dodgers 2013 and 2015 Branch Rickey Minor League Pitcher of the Year, and he earned a couple call-ups to L.A. in '15, though he only made one appearance -- a July 25 road loss to the Mets when he gave up seven earned runs on 11 hits and a walk in 4 2/3 innings. It wasn't exactly a forgettable cup of coffee, but if he can pitch like the Padres think he can, he'll put that memory in the rearview mirror.
"Zach's got a feel for pitching," manager Andy Green said before Monday's series opener in Colorado. "It's a four-pitch mix. It's any pitch at any point in time. It's moving the ball around the strike zone. It's attacking hitters' weaknesses. He's one of those guys that's going to pitch to a scouting report and do it very well."
Lee was never better than in '15, when he went 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 19 starts for Triple-A Oklahoma City in the offensive-oriented Pacific Coast League.
"Any time you can have a sub-three in the PCL, you're doing something right," Lee said.
He couldn't replicate that success in '16, going a combined 7-14 with a 6.14 ERA in a Triple-A season split between Oklahoma City and Tacoma after a June 16 trade to the Mariners. The Padres claimed him off waivers on Dec. 13.
"It's been a grind," Lee said of his journey from his last Major League appearance to his current call-up. "It's hard to get up here, then it's even harder to stay up here. I got mechanically out of whack and just fell into a bad little dip there last year."
Lee went to work as soon as the season ended, trying to find his form again and get himself ready for the next opportunity.
"I worked a little bit with Skip Johnson, a pitching coach that I've worked with in the past," Lee said. "I tried to break down what was the big difference between '15 and '16. I got a little bit more bend on my back leg. I wasn't quite attacking as much. I was kind of a little tentative as far as making pitches, rather than going out there and trying to be aggressive and execute pitches down in the zone early."
Lee will pitch in long relief "for now," as Green said, or "for today" as Lee put it, hoping for a quick chance to put his experience keeping the ball down in the zone in the PCL to use.
"Ground balls don't go out; fly balls do," Lee said. "A lot like here at Coors Field."