The Lowe down

Veteran starter Derek Lowe didn’t always throw a sinker, but he knows exactly where he’d be today if he hadn’t started dabbling with the pitch as a Double-A farmhand in Seattle’s system some 18 years ago.

“You’d see me working at McDonald’s super sizing your value meal,” he quipped.

In 1994, when Lowe was with Double-A Jacksonville, pitching coach Jeff Andrews began working with the right-hander on a two-seamer. Lowe’s four-seam fastball was “straight as a string” and he was searching for a way to set himself apart from the pack of pitching prospects fighting to climb the organizational ladder.

“I was kind of at that crossroad of needing to come up with something to separate yourself from the next guy,” Lowe said. “That’s the only reason why I made it this far.”

This far is 15 seasons, 2,515 2/3 innings, 166 wins, 85 saves and one World Series ring on his Major League resume. Along the way, Lowe has created 5,045 grounders — the most of any pitcher from 1997 (his first season) through 2011.

Now, at 38 years young, Lowe is on a mission to prove he can regain the form he had from 2002-10, when he won at least 14 games seven times in nine seasons. Last year, Lowe went 9-17 for the Braves and was shipped to Cleveland in a trade over the offseason.

Lowe’s mechanics were off, his sinker faltered as a result and he relied more on his secondary pitches than he had in previous seasons. This spring, and this season, Lowe’s goal is to get back to what got him this far. He’s trying to return to being the sinker-first starter that can eat up innings and wear out the infield grass with grounders.

In Wednesday’s 2-2 tie with the Giants, the pitcher looked like vintage Lowe in four innings for the Indians. The sinkerballer scattered two hits and allowed one run with one walk and no strikeouts. Within that, though, he forced eight of the 15 hitters he faced to put the ball on the ground. Seven resulted in outs.

“The hitters will tell you how good your stuff is,” Lowe said. “That’s the bottom line — if they’re hitting the ball on the ground, if you’re getting funky swings.”

Some notes from Wednesday…

  • A report by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com on Wednesday indicated that the Indians have restructured the contract of pitcher Roberto Hernandez (formerly Fausto Carmona). GM Chris Antonetti would not comment on the report, but he and manager Manny Acta did discuss the latest in the Hernandez saga. CLICK HERE for today’s story on Indians.com.
  • Didn’t get a chance to talk to Josh Tomlin after his outing on Tuesday (3 IP/7R), but caught up with him for a bit this morning at the complex. Tomlin explained that he feels he sometimes throws too many strikes, meaning there are situations when he could benefit from throwing a ball intentionally to set hitters up or tempt them to chase. Tomlin felt he was in the zone too much without enough varied looks on Tuesday. He noted that he didn’t throw many high strikes to help change the hitters’ eye levels. These are all things he’s working on right now in preparation for the season.
  • Closer Chris Perez (strained left oblique) played catch at a distance of a 150 feet on Wednesday — the final step in his flat-ground progression. He said he should be able to throw in a bullpen session on Friday. If he continues to progress as hopes, Perez thinks he can get five or six Cactus League appearances in before Opening Day.
  • First baseman Casey Kotchman remained out of the lineup on Wednesday due to lower back tightness. That’s five days in a row. Kotchman was able to stretch and throw during Wednesday’s workout and Acta noted the first baseman took some dry swings in the cage. Could be a few days before he’s back in the lineup, though.
  • One pitcher doing some impressing this spring is Minor League lefty Scott Barnes. On Wednesday, he worked three innings, striking out four, allowing one hit and yielding no runs. He hasn’t allowed a run this spring. Acta said Barnes doesn’t figure into the spring rotation competition, but he’s definitely on the radar for this coming season.
  • With Kotchman still out, the Indians had a chance to bring an extra Minor League first baseman to Wednesday’s game. Acta had Beau Mills (2007 first rounder) join the team in Scottsdale. The manager said, given the first base situation in Cleveland, the Indians have hardly given up on Mills, who had a nice bounceback season last year. Mills will likely get a few more ABs with the big club as the spring moves along.
  • Asked again if any outfielders were moving ahead of the pack for the open left field job, Acta quipped: “They’re all tied for last right now. All of them are tied for last. They’ve all made the same type of impression, but just not good enough to come out and say such and such has won the battle. It’s early.”
  • If you missed MLB Network’s “30 Clubs in 30 Days” special highlighting the Indians on Wednesday, fear not, it will air again a few times on Thursday. Fire up your DVR, or set an alarm, because it will be on again at 3 a.m., 6 a.m. and 12 p.m. (all times ET).
  • Utility man Jason Donald — a favorite to win one of the open bench jobs — has started at second, short and third so far this spring. Acta said Donald will see some time in the outfield during the second half of the spring schedule. Barring injury, it says here that Donald is going to be on the team.
  • Acta indicated that a wave of roster cuts are expected to come down on Thursday. Right now, the Tribe has 59 players in camp and something has to give. I’d expect some of the Minor Leaguers on hand for experience will be sent down the hall at the complex. Acta said they don’t call them “roster cuts,” though. “They’re transitioning to the other side,” he said.
  • Acta does not want to get into a situation where any starting pitcher has his own personal catcher. The manager said Carlos Santana will start the bulk of the games behind the plate and Lou Marson will be worked in mostly against left-handed pitching. As for pitchers sometimes being more comfortable with certain catchers, Acta quipped: “It’s not about being comfortable. It’s about winning ballgames. I’d rather sleep on a very uncomfortable bed if I’m promised that I’m going to win 100 games.”

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Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see some of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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