Closing Time: What's wrong with Derek Lowe?

If you're looking for news from the first part of Thursday, we direct you to our Pre-Closing Time offering. The best nuggets of the evening card follow below.

When Derek Lowe(notes) got a four-year, $60 million package from the Braves over the winter, one thought immediately jumped to my mind – Atlanta is going to regret this deal at the end of the contract. Now I'm starting to wonder if the timetable needs to be accelerated. The veteran righty shows plenty of red flags at the moment, and keep in mind he just turned 36.

The Yankees were the latest team to knock Lowe around, throwing up eight runs (six earned) and 11 hits at the righty over three-plus innings Thursday night. The messy outing kicked Lowe's ERA up to 4.53, and he has just one win over his last six turns.

Lowe's never been a strikeout ace for his career, but in 2009 he's pretty much unable to dodge bats. He didn't strike out any Yanks and he's got just 26 whiffs over his last 11 starts; it's hard to be successful when you're welcoming that much contact. Maybe it wouldn't be that big a deal if Lowe's sinker were in fine form, but his ground-ball rate has taken a sharp hit, too, and he's even walking more guys this year. If not for a crazy-lucky HR/FB rate (under 4 percent), Lowe's ERA would probably be gigantic right now.

Normally I'd be advising a quiet sell of a name player like Lowe, but it's been my experience that he's not the most coveted arm in the fantasy world, even when times are good. The modest strikeout numbers keep people on guard. With that in mind, you're left with three general strategies here: advertise that you want to move a pitcher and let your opponents come to Lowe; wait until he has a strong outing, then push the sell ticket; or hold onto him and see if he can find his sinker again. An established pitcher with Lowe's track record can't be kicked to the curb after a few rough turns, but it's very possible his days the sub-4 ERA are done for good. The circus leaves town for everyone eventually.

Willy Taveras(notes) got back into the leadoff spot at Toronto and came through, rapping out three hits and stealing a base. And how can you not root for the Joey Votto(notes) comeback story? He had four hits in Cincinnati's win, including the homer that put the Reds ahead.

John Smoltz(notes) returned to the majors with mixed reviews; the Nationals piled up four runs against him in the bottom of the first, but Smoltz (5 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 5 K) looked sharp over the next four frames. "I know it was a tough game, but if he throws the ball like that, if he feels like that physically, he's going to be just fine," Terry Francona told the Associated Press. Smoltz's next turn comes at Baltimore next week.

Jordan Zimmermann(notes) was outstanding on the other side, holding the Red Sox down over seven superb innings (5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K). He's allowed two runs or less in four of his last five turns, and he's been on the FIP-sleeper list for a while (his suggested ERA is over a run lower than the real thing right now). If Zimmerman's recent run had come with a higher-profile team, the cover would be blown for good. Instead, you can probably add him in some shallower mixed pools right now; when you pitch for the worst team in the majors, it can be hard to draw attention to your performance, even when it's roto-worthy.

Mark Reynolds(notes) did his usual bit in Arizona's loss; a pair of homers, one strikeout, one error at third. He's up to 21 taters for the season. Justin Upton(notes) went 2-for-4 with a pair of walks in the extra-inning tilt; he also stole a base and scored four times. He's got a modest 10 steals on the year but there's no reason why he can't get 30-40 a season if he wants it .

Chris Ray(notes) is back from the minors but he's still a work in progress; Hanley Ramirez(notes) ripped a grand slam off him Thursday. If George Sherrill(notes) winds up being moved by the Orioles around the trade deadline, Jim Johnson(notes) is the first name to speculate on. Ramirez recently had a stretch of just one steal over a four-week period, but he's swiped two in his last two games.

Speed Round: Leo Nunez(notes) (ankle) threw on the side Thursday and also did some fielding and running drills. Dan Meyer(notes) is at the head of the Florida bullpen committee for the moment, but Nunez will enter the mix the moment he's healthy enough to pitch again (which should be this weekend). … Josh Hamilton(notes) (abdomen) is making excellent progress and he's hoping for return next Friday. The Rangers have yet to sign off on that timetable, however. … Who had June 25 in the Nick Johnson(notes) pool? The Washington first sacker left Thursday's game with a shin contusion. … Eric Byrnes(notes) broke his left hand, courtesy of a Scott Feldman(notes) fastball, and is out for 4-8 weeks. Mixed-leaguers cut bait on Byrnes a long time ago; now it's time for NL-only players to give up. … It's going to be a while before I recommend Chris Davis(notes) to anyone out there, but it's my job to tell you he collected four hits, including a homer, in Thursday's extra-inning victory at Arizona. The binge raised his average to .209. … Grady Sizemore(notes) was given a routine day off Thursday. … Alex Rios(notes) took a collar Thursday but we'll give him a pass; his game has perked up nicely since the Jays moved him down to the No. 6 slot in the order two weeks ago (.300 average, six steals).


Photos courtesy Associated Press

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