Lowe’s new delivery doesn’t include barbs

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Completely changing his pitching mechanics occupied most of Derek Lowe’s(notes) offseason. Feeling annoyed when the Atlanta Braves tried to trade him filled a few hours. That must have left at least a minute or two to contemplate the irony of a messy divorce unfolding on the other side of the country.

Los Angeles Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt were openly distressed in 2005 when Lowe – then the team’s highest-paid pitcher – split from his wife and went public about his relationship with TV reporter Carolyn Hughes. Jamie McCourt, especially, was outraged that Lowe was harming the Dodgers’ supposedly wholesome brand. For his part, the irrepressible Lowe stifled his natural instinct to blabber on about the hypocrisy of it all. He and Hughes eventually were married and live quietly in Fort Myers, Fla.

And Lowe remains mum, even with the McCourts trading unseemly jabs and heading toward divorce court and a public airing of their differences in pursuit of the unholy trinity of cash, power and spite.

“You really want me to talk about that?” Lowe said shortly after putting his new delivery on display for the first time with a flawless two-inning stint against the Washington Nationals on Friday.

He threw his head back and laughed. “That is a recipe for disaster right there,” he said. “But I give you credit for trying. That is a good effort right there.” With that he disappeared into the shower.

Moments earlier he’d been effusive about his retooled windup and was ecstatic about the early results – five weak groundballs and a strikeout. Lowe’s image is of a laid-back goofball who can’t take anything seriously, least of all himself. But when it comes to his craft, his career, his ability to get batter after batter to roll over his sinker into a worm-killing groundout, he’s as serious as a purpose pitch.

Giving up 232 hits in 194 2/3 innings and allowing batters to hit .301 against him in his first season with the Braves sickened him.

“I was so hittable it wasn’t funny,” he said. “I had no deception whatsoever. Hitters will tell you how your stuff is. Everything I threw was up, everything was flat, hitters could see the ball.”

For all his joking and horseplay, Lowe has a bit of lunch pail in him, maybe a vestige of his Detroit roots. How else could he be the only major league pitcher to make at least 32 starts the last eight seasons? So as soon as the season ended, he rebuilt his delivery like a Motor City mechanic overhauls the engine of an old Mustang, tearing it down, cleaning it up and methodically putting it back together.

Lowe used to hunch over and keep his hands near his chest as he turned into the balance position before striding toward the plate. Now he brings his hands above his head and stays as tall as possible over the rubber, increasing the downward plane of his pitches.

“When you are 6-6 you don’t want to pitch at 5-10,” he said, adding glibly, “teach your kids that.”

Lowe’s new motion resembles that of a taller Greg Maddux(notes), his golfing buddy and former teammate with the Dodgers.

“I literally changed everything from my feet to my head,” he said. “I looked at video from before, watched video of successful guys and what they do. I changed my arm angle, arm path, stride, knee, shoulder, head, elbow, height of my arm, we can go on all day long. There isn’t one thing I did last year I’m doing right now – which a lot of people will be happy to hear.”

Lowe discussed his plan with Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell late last season. And as soon as he returned home, he spent an hour a day pantomiming pitches from his new delivery under the supervision of longtime personal trainer Chris Correnti. Lifting his hands above his head at the beginning of his windup just sort of happened.

“I had a real bad tendency of leaning over last year, so it started out as a drill to stay tall and use my height,” he said. “You do something 1,000 times and it eventually becomes second nature. So when it was time to throw I stayed with it because it was what we were working on.”

Lowe said his extreme makeover also will be noticeable from the set position, although he didn’t use it Friday because he didn’t allow a baserunner. Normally pitchers downplay the results of their first spring outing, but Lowe approached it with the apprehension of a playoff game.

“Today was a day I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” he said. “As a sinkerball guy, you have to locate. And I did today. That was the most encouraging thing.”

Lowe already has been named the Braves’ opening day starter, probably based more on the eight scoreless innings he pitched last year on opening day against the Phillies than on his new mechanics. The season got progressively worse, and even though his 15-10 record was respectable, his 4.67 ERA was higher than at any time since 2004.

“He wasn’t content with the year he had,” McDowell said. “Obviously he wasn’t happy at all. We’ll see if by the end of the season this makes a difference. Hopefully it will.”

McDowell has a special insight into Lowe because he was similar as a pitcher, a clubhouse cutup who became all business when he took the mound.

“Derek wouldn’t be as successful as he has been if he didn’t have that inner desire to succeed,” McDowell said. “And he does. He cares tremendously about his results every fifth day. He feels an obligation to be the guy he envisions himself to be.”

Lowe reminded everyone Friday just who that guy is. Someone unafraid to make changes, even at age 36. Someone who can feel thrilled by progress on a day in early March nobody will remember in April. And someone who has gained the maturity not to gloat about the tribulations of his previous employers.

Steve Henson is a Senior Writer and Editor for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter.
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Updated Friday, Mar 5, 2010