Spring Training Primer: Lee's first start; Smith still not playing; Nuno on WBC atmosphere - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Spring Training

Spring Training Primer: Lee’s first start; Smith still not playing; Nuno on WBC atmosphere

Photo credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire

What’s happening: Lefty Chris Lee, one of the top pitching prospects in the Orioles’ organization, gets his first Grapefruit League start tonight against the Philadelphia Phillies at Ed Smith Stadium.

It’s a major stretch to call this an audition for the open spot in the rotation – one created by Chris Tillman’s shoulder injury — but Lee has opened more eyes this spring, allowing two runs in his first eight innings. And even more eyes will be watching the 24-year-old Lee tonight.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked what he’s expecting.

“Just continue to impress. It’s a good spot for him,” Showalter said. “I want to see him start from the get-go against (a regular-season lineup). Anytime you get a night game, there’s a little extra adrenaline for some reason.”

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Lee, who was acquired by the Orioles from the Houston Astros for two international bonus slots in 2015, was 5-0 with a 2.98 ERA in eight games (seven starts) at Double-A Bowie last year before a lat/shoulder injury ended his season in May.

Given the Orioles’ pitching troubles in 2016, it’s fathomable the Orioles would have summoned a healthy Lee during last season had he continued to pitch well in the minors. Instead, he was shut down, and the Orioles were just hoping to have a healthy Lee this spring.

He’s been more than that, but the idea of him jumping from an injury-riddled season at Double-A to the 2017 Opening Day roster seems unrealistic at best.

A good showing Thursday under the lights, though, certainly will help him establish his rung in the minor-league hierarchy as the season progresses.

What’s happened: Outfielder Seth Smith continues to be held out of action with a right hamstring strain. Smith hasn’t played since March 8, when he homered against Toronto, his lone hit in 11 Grapefruit League at-bats (he also had a double in the exhibition versus the Dominican Republic).

It’s a bit of a concern that Smith, acquired in the offseason from Seattle for pitcher Yovani Gallardo, hasn’t been able to be on the field much; he is being counted on as a semi-regular in right field for the Orioles this year.

But Showalter said Smith has dealt with hamstring issues in previous seasons – and so holding him out now makes sense.

“Last year he started with it and thought it (was) pretty minor,” Showalter said. “This one was even more minor than that, he said. … But we — and he — don’t want to go into the season with it being a nagging thing, so we’re trying to clear it up down here. He said he gets it about every spring. Last year, he didn’t feel like he was cautious enough with it, and went into the season with it.”

Pedro Alvarez, officially signed Monday to a minor league deal, made his 2017 Orioles’ debut Wednesday, going hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts. He was the designated hitter, but soon will play in the outfield, a position the 30-year-old is learning after a career as a corner infielder.

Showalter said Tillman had a cortisone injection Wednesday and will rest for a few days before testing his aching right shoulder. He hasn’t pitched in a game all spring and is expected to start the season on the DL.

“I know they are encouraged where he is and how he is feeling right now,” Showalter said of Tillman and the club’s medical team. “So, we’ll see in a couple days how he feels, if he can get back on the bump.”

What’s up with: Zach Stewart. The 30-year-old right-hander, who hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012, didn’t give up a run in his first five outings of the spring. That streak came to a crashing halt Wednesday when he surrendered a grand slam in the fifth inning.

What they’re saying: “The atmosphere was amazing. It was loud, energetic, so it was good to see that and get everything in before the regular season comes around and you hear the same thing.” – Vidal Nuno, who returned to the Orioles clubhouse Wednesday after pitching with Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.

What’s the number: 5 – That’s how many walks and strikeouts that starter Ubaldo Jimenez compiled Wednesday. He said he was battling to get his split-fingered fastball over for strikes while in three-ball counts. It’s something he’s worked on this spring – with varied results.

What’s the record? 10-8-1 – The Orioles and Pirates were tied 1-1 in the fifth when Zach Stewart allowed a grand slam to Phil Gosselin. The Orioles battled back with four runs in the seventh, but fell 6-5. They’ll be back in Bradenton on Friday after tonight’s contest against the Phillies.

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