After hearing Joe Simpson tell me at the beginning of yesterday's Braves/Cubs telecast that Derek Lowe had a good spring, that his new motion was wondrous, that his late 2009 troubles were behind him, that the sun had risen, and that the liquor was tasty, my first thought was "how long until he blows up?" The answer was less than an inning as Marlon Byrd blasted a three-run homer after a couple other Cubbies had recorded hard-hit, fly ball outs on our "ground-ball pitcher."
It is true that D Lowe settled down in the second inning before giving up another homer, then mostly settled down for the remainder of his six innings of work. Granted, Mr. Heyward, Cohiba Escobar, Mac Daddy, et al kept the pressure off Lowe with their bats. You can't read too much into one start, but D Lowe's line looked a lot like many of his lines near the end of 2009:
6 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, 2 HR, 3 BB, 2 K
Sure, there were several ground ball outs, but there were also some hard hit fly balls, plus the "catch" by Natey Mac that was one of the worst calls ever made that didn't involve tequila shots. The "catch" probably saved Lowe from giving up at least one more run and perhaps two.
Derek Lowe was still a good pitcher early last season, but he was not the same pitcher he was the previous four years in Los Angeles. Here was Lowe's line through his first 25 starts of 2009:
150 IP, 162 Hits, 8 HR, 49 BB (2.94 BB/9), 79 K's (4.74 K/9), 4.08 ERA, 1.41 WHIP
Lowe gave up a few more hits and a few more walks as a Brave, as his WHIP for his four seasons in L.A. were 1.25, 1.27, 1.27, and 1.13. His ERA was up slightly from the Dodger days as well. However, Lowe was also mostly keeping the ball down, as his home run rate dropped a bit. He was still an effective pitcher, at least league-average. Then, beginning with an August 18 start against the Mets, something unraveled. This is Lowe's line since that start, including yesterday's game:
50.2 IP, 75 Hits, 10 HR, 17 BB (3.02 BB/9), 34 K's (6.04 K/9), 6.75 ERA, 1.82 WHIP
The only good news there is the boost in strikeouts, and that boost was exclusive to last season as Lowe had only two K's in six innings yesterday. Also, the strikeout increase is dwarfed by the big increase in hits, the small rise in walks, and the huge increase in homers. I am not an expert, but it sounds as if Lowe's sinker stopped sinking as much, or at least as often, last August 18. If the much ballyhooed "change in pitching motion" made any difference yesterday, it was only sporadic at best.
We need to see a few more starts from D Lowe before making any definitive call, and I still believe there is a good chance Lowe will be a league-average pitcher this year. As I have said before, if he and Iron Chef Kenshin Kawakami are league-average and the other pitchers perform as they should, the Braves should win the East. But Lowe blew his chance to show that his late '09 swoon was behind him, and the pressure to perform will only increase from here on out. We can click our ruby slippers as much as we want, but the Braves' bats aren't going to give D Lowe double digits every time out.