Lowe feels like he's back on track
The last thing Sean Lowe expected was for his last name to be synonymous with his feelings about the start of his Pirates career.
Two weeks ago, after a spot start against the San Diego Padres in which he didn't make it out of the fourth inning, Lowe was feeling, well, low about how he was pitching for his new team.
"I was really down," said Lowe, a 31-year-old right-hander. "After that start, I was frustrated. I was really disappointed in myself. I was going through some tough times. I was trying too hard, maybe pressing a little bit."
"I feel good, actually," he said. "I've been working really hard the last two weeks to get back to being my old self."
Not even the fact that he continues to sport the highest ERA on the Pirates staff, at 7.76, has dampened Lowe's enthusiasm. Not even the disappointment of giving up a game-winning home run Saturday night to light-hitting Houston Astros infielder Jose Vizcaino has dented his confidence.
"I feel like I'm back on track again," Lowe said. "The funny thing about (Saturday) night is I felt wonderful out there. The last two or three times out there, I've felt good. I don't think things are as bad as they seem."
Still, it wasn't supposed to be this way. Not for Lowe, the established pitcher among the three right-handers that Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield acquired from the Chicago White Sox in December at the winter meetings.
Kip Wells was the unproven member of the trio, a hard-throwing pitcher trying to solidify his spot in the major leagues after spending parts of the three previous seasons in the minors. Josh Fogg was the rookie wild-card, a crafty strike-thrower who wasn't guaranteed of making the team entering spring training.
Lowe• He was the veteran. The owner of three-plus years of experience as a swingman with the White Sox. He could start or relieve. Work the first inning, the sixth or the ninth. He would lead. Wells and Fogg would follow his example.
It hasn't quite worked out that way. Wells has six wins and Fogg five, accounting for more than half of the Pirates' 20 wins. Lowe, after losing the fifth starter's job to Fogg in spring training, is trying to rid himself of an ERA that resembles a figure skating judge's scorecard.
"It's tough to watch him go through this because I know how good of a pitcher he is," Fogg said. "All I can say is it's a long year, and he's going to battle back. Give him time, he's going to be fine the rest of the year."
Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon couldn't have put it any better.
"The numbers don't look good now, but I've said it before and I'll say it again, at the end of the year, Sean Lowe will have respectable numbers," he said.
While fans were calling for Lowe to be demoted to Class AAA Nashville last week instead of Mike Lincoln, who was sent down despite an 0.54 ERA, McClendon was quick to point out that it was Lowe who fulfilled the thankless role of long reliever. Lowe was the first man out of the bullpen in blowout losses, the pitcher who had to absorb innings and an escalating pitch count for the betterment of the staff. His 26 2 / 3 innings are most among all Pirates relievers.
"He's done it all. He's done everything we've asked of him and then some," McClendon said. "We've left him out there at times too long, and he's given up runs when he probably shouldn't have been in the game. Quite frankly, he has saved our bullpen several times this year."
Not once this year has Lowe complained about his job description.
"That's why they pay me," said Lowe, who is making $950,000 this year. "It's what I'm good at and why they've got me here. I just like going out and pitching. Sucking up innings isn't the best job in the world, but I don't mind it. That's what they pay me to do."
Lowe filled another role May 5. He made an emergency start in San Diego when Dave Williams was scratched because of a left shin injury. The Padres touched him for eight hits and six earned runs in 3 1 / 3 innings. Lowe also walked three batters in that game, which sent him into his funk.
"I was starting to wonder if something was wrong," Lowe said. "My velocity was down and it turned out that I was dragging my arm and rushing out. It's something I've battled my whole career."
A minor flaw was detected by pitching coach Spin Williams and bullpen coach Bruce Tanner. Lowe didn't pitch in a game for a week and then was charged with three runs after he left the game with two outs in an inning against the Houston Astros.
A scoreless inning of relief followed in his next appearance. He retired the only batter he faced Friday night against the Astros. The next night, he retired one batter before Vizcaino hit a first-pitch curveball into the right-field seats to hand Lowe his second loss of the year.
"I know I haven't been able to string together any quality innings, but I think it's coming," Lowe said. "I want this team to be able to depend on me. I haven't shown that yet except in spurts. In this game you have to be consistent, and I haven't been that yet. But I know I can do that by getting the chance to throw a lot of innings."
As for that inflated ERA …
"It's going to be an uphill battle," Lowe said. "To go out and get my numbers to respectable is going to take some time. I can't go out there in a week and get them down to where I need them to be. But I'm not worried about it anymore. If I go out and do my job, that all will take care of itself."
Fogg also is confident it will turn around for Lowe, too.
"It's still early," he said. "We're only a month and a half into the year. This is a six-month season and he's going to be fine. It's harder for fans to realize, but when you're playing the game you know that six months makes the season, not one month or a month and a half."