Lowe working to resemble pitcher of old

Lowe working to resemble pitcher of old

DETROIT -- Mark Lowe insists his arm feels healthy, which should be a relief for him. But it also makes the struggles all the more perplexing.

"I feel great," the Tigers' reliever said Sunday morning. "That's the most frustrating part. Just gonna have to grind it out and take the punches and keep getting back up and trying again."

Six months ago, Lowe signed a two-year, $11 million contract to serve as the Tigers' setup man, riding the momentum of a dominant season between Seattle and Toronto. Now, he's trying to find that form again, and he's pitching in some lower-leverage situations until then. Shane Greene has converted from a starting role to help fill right-handed setup duties, working alongside lefty Justin Wilson.

It's not how Lowe envisioned his Tigers tenure. But considering he was bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues in 2013-14, trying to get back to the form that made him a promising young reliever in Seattle and Texas, he's used to comeback stories.

Lowe's fastball velocity, which rose to 95.5 mph last season, has averaged 92.2 mph so far this year, according to Fangraphs. His slider velocity, too, is down a couple ticks, from 86.7 to 84.7 mph.

Still, to call it a velocity drop would be oversimplifying. His swing-and-miss percentage is down on his fastball, from around 20 percent last year to 11.3 percent so far this season according to STATS. Hitters are chasing Lowe's pitches out of the zone with less frequency, both fastball and slider.

The slider was a huge pitch in reviving his career last year, as was the fastball velocity. The former was a new grip he picked up from a teammate. The latter was a mechanical issue. As Lowe tries to get back to that, he's working with pitching coach Rich Dubee on mechanics.

"Minor tweaks, just trying to get back to what I did last year," Lowe said. "Nothing big, but it's different, because I created some bad habits."

He's hoping that feeling comes back sooner than later. The veteran picked up a couple of swings and misses on his slider Saturday, including a strikeout of Brett Lawrie to lead off the ninth inning, but gave up a couple of hits on the fastball, part of a three-hit inning that turned a 7-2 game into a 7-4 save situation for Francisco Rodriguez.

"He actually looked really good against the first hitter, Lawrie," manager Brad Ausmus said. "That looked like the Lowe we saw last year with the depth on the slider. We need to get that and have him be able to carry it through an inning."

Said Lowe: "It's frustrating, just because obviously, nobody as a competitor wants to go out and get beat around like that. I know I'm better than I've been pitching, and I expect more out of myself. Just gotta do something to figure it out and bring something to the table to help this team win."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.