Dominant Lowe ready for the real thing

Dominant Lowe ready for the real thing

VIERA, Fla. -- This was not the same Derek Lowe who just five days earlier had labored through a forgettable first inning with the discomfort created by a blister on his right big toe. Instead, this was the revitalized version of the Braves right-hander who spent this past offseason overhauling his delivery with the hope that he might once again be able to enjoy near-perfect nights like this.

With his toe wrapped and providing no problems at Space Coast Stadium on Monday night, Lowe worked four scoreless innings that proved painful only to the Nationals hitters that were routinely baffled by his patented sinker.

While facing 13 batters, Lowe recorded six strikeouts, induced five groundouts and found the strike zone with 32 of his 45 pitches for strikes. The only thing separating him from perfection was first baseman Eric Hinske's inability to catch Martin Prado's face-high throw in the third inning.

"You wish this game was in the season, because you'd love to keep pitching," Lowe said. "But again, from my standpoint, I'm not going to say this every time out, but it's good to see the things that you worked on in the offseason are paying off."

Lowe didn't allow the Nationals to direct any of his pitches into the outfield, and the only out that didn't come via a strikeout or groundout came courtesy of a sacrifice bunt that followed Hinske's error.

"[Lowe] had quite a night," Braves manager Bobby Cox said after his team's 5-2 win over the Nationals. "He was outstanding. That should be one of the best performances of any spring."

Lowe was perfect through the first two innings, ending the second inning by getting Elijah Dukes and Adam Kennedy to look at called third strikes. The veteran hurler victimized Ryan Zimmerman with two of his strikeouts and ended his evening by getting Adam Dunn to look helpless as another sinker sneaked into the strike zone.

"I repeat myself a lot, but the hitters will tell you how good your stuff is," Lowe said. "I probably had more swings and misses today than I have in a long time. When I'm getting strikeouts when guys are looking, it shows you that deception-wise, it's a good thing."

While posting a 6.65 ERA in his final nine starts last year, a frustrated Lowe determined that to once again create the deception that he possessed during the successful portions of his career, he would need to essentially alter his delivery from head-to-toe. The most defining change is visible, as he now raises his hands in front of his face as he turns into his delivery from the windup.

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"It's something I had to do," Lowe said. "I would have had the same results this year if I didn't make the changes. If I would have pitched like I did at the end of last year, I would have been in the bullpen at some point this year."

When Lowe worked two scoreless innings during his March 5 Grapefruit League debut, he provided indication that he had found comfort in his delivery, which he completely overhauled during the offseason. His attempt to duplicate this success last Wednesday was essentially negated because of the blister that formed after he threw the third pitch of what proved to be just a one-inning stint.

As a frustrated Lowe labeled the afternoon a "wasted day," there was at least some reason to wonder if he would be able to rebound fast enough to make his Opening Day start. But five days later, the 36-year-old sinkerballer simply had the Braves hoping this was the kind of performance that they will see against the Cubs on Opening Day.

"It's great to see him like this right now," Cox said. "He's free and easy and his ball is sinking. He's hitting spots and he's striking guys out."

Multiple attempts to quickly rebound from bad outings proved unsuccessful for Lowe last year, when he found himself continually attempting to alter the mechanics that he'd lost while collecting some bad habits over the previous couple of seasons.

With the belief that he is now mechanically sound, Lowe now has the confidence that he can quickly right himself after the rough outings that he will inevitably encounter during the course of a long season.

"Just because you have a bad game, it doesn't mean you're still not going in the right direction," Lowe said. "Mentally it's a lot easier right now because good game or bad game, I don't feel like I have to make drastic changes, or any changes at all. That's always been my downfall -- when things started to go bad, I felt like I had to reinvent the wheel each time out."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.