Lowe getting back to that sinking feeling

Lowe getting back to that sinking feeling

Lowe getting back to that sinking feeling
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Derek Lowe knows why his season spun out of control last year. The veteran got away from his strength, turning more often to pitches other than the one that has allowed him to last two decades in professional baseball.

Lowe stopped relying as much on his sinker and the result was arguably his worst showing as a starter in the big leagues. The goal this season for the Indians pitcher is to go back to what has got him this far, because he knows where he would be without that signature two-seamer.

"You'd see me working at McDonald's super sizing your value meal," Lowe joked.

The Indians traded for Lowe over the offseason, sending Minor League reliever Chris Jones to the Braves in exchange for the veteran and $10 million of the $15 million he is owed for the upcoming campaign. When Lowe arrived to Spring Training, Cleveland's message to him was simple. The Tribe wanted to see him throw more fastballs again.

Lowe has used this spring to focus on correcting some mechanical flaws that came up last season with Atlanta, and to pound the strike zone with an array of sinkers. The early showing from the 38-year-old has been solid, reinforcing the thought process behind adjusting his pitch usage for the year ahead.

This could be a turning point for Lowe in terms of extending his career in the Major Leagues.

That is essentially why he turned to the sinker in the first place 18 years ago.

"I was kind of at that crossroad," Lowe said, "needing to come up with something to separate yourself from the next guy."

When Lowe was pitching for Double-A Jacksonville in Seattle's farm system in 1994, pitching coach Jeff Andrews began working with him on a two-seam sinker. Lowe described his four-seam heater as being "straight as a string," so the pitcher was searching for a way to improve his chances of ascending the Minors.

The development of the sinker paid great dividends.

Over 15 season in the big leagues, Lowe has piled up 2,515 2/3 innings, 166 wins, 85 saves and picked up one World Series ring along the way. Thanks largely to that sinker of his, he has also created 5,045 ground balls, which is the most by any big league pitcher over the course of his career.

"He's a tireless worker," Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky said. "To be pitching at his age and to be in the shape he's in, he's obviously put in some work or he wouldn't be here. He's got a pretty good head on what he's got to do."

Lowe labored to correct a handful of issues that came up last season, though. He was hunched over more than usual during his delivery and his fastball command was sporadic. As a result, he threw fewer sinkers than he had in years and began turning more often to his slider, cutter and changeup.

After averaging 15 wins per season with a 3.90 ERA from 2002-10, Lowe went 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 34 starts for the Braves last season. The Indians' front office felt Lowe's pitch usage -- combined with the mechanical woes -- were behind his sudden drop-off in performance.

Even if the Braves felt the same, Lowe understood their reasoning for trading him away.

Going 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA in September during Atlanta's collapse from contention certainly did him no favors.

"I think it had a lot to do with -- I know it did -- the young crop of guys they have," Lowe said. "Let's be honest, if I went 17-9, I'd still be there. I think it was a combination of the six weeks I had [down the stretch] and they have five guys that are ready for the big leagues.

"I think they saw it as an opportunity to get some of them in there. If this was even two years ago, it probaby wouldn't have happened. It was just a timing thing of bad end of the year and a lot of good hum-chuckers."

The Tribe pulled the trigger on the trade with the firm belief that a few adjustments might be all it takes to get Lowe back to the pitcher he was a couple of years ago. Lowe will turn 39 years old in June, but Cleveland does not make too much of that fact given his style of pitching.

"He continues to pile up the innings and be healthy," manager Manny Acta said. "He doesn't break down. He keeps himself in great shape. Age, a lot of times relates to injuries or lack of stuff, but he's been a sinkerballer his whole life. He's never been a throw-the-ball-by-you guy.

"We feel he can bounce back and he feels the same way. We're going to make every effort possible to put him in that situation."

So far, Lowe has looked solid enough this spring for the Indians.

Over 15 innings in four Cactus League outings, the right-hander has posted a 3.00 ERA, allowing six runs (five earned) on 14 hits. In his most recent start on Saturday against the Dodgers, Lowe surrendered two runs (one earned) on seven hits over six innings, in which he struck out four and walked none.

Lowe looked more than ready for Opening Day.

"That was exactly what we wanted to see," Acta said. "He was in command the whole time. They couldn't get the ball off the ground. He did a fantastic job. He was able to mix the sinker with the slider. It's what we wanted to see. We're very happy about that."

It all goes back to that sinker.

"That's the only reason why I made it this far," Lowe said.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.