Ripple of success has Tigers' Lowe riding wave of hope

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Mark Lowe has not given up a hit or a run in his last four outings.

Boston — He was asked how he might classify 2016.

Deflating? Disappointing? Disturbing?

None of the above.

“It’s been a grind,” Mark Lowe said Tuesday as he sorted through his locker in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park. “Everything that worked for me last year — it’s been a different thought process this season and it takes time to find (rediscover) that. Although my last four outings have been good.”

It’s what a 33-year-old, right-handed reliever with a nice resume is banking on. That he is getting close to finding an old groove that made him an important back-end option for the Jays and, before his move to Toronto, with the Mariners.

Lowe, a lean Texan who looks like someone from a Hollywood set, can view those last four outings as proof he’s settling down. He has not allowed a run in his last four games. He has not allowed a hit during that streak.

And just to make clear how rocky 2016 has been, that four-game run has lowered Lowe’s ERA to 9.19 from 10.29.

How this happened has been one of this season's true Tigers mysteries.

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Tigers scouts insisted last autumn Lowe had the octane to help power a bullpen that for too many seasons had been endangering psyches of fans and front-office execs, not to mention a Tigers manager or two.

He had built a 1.96 ERA in 57 games in 2015 split between the Mariners and Jays. He had quality stints earlier with the Rangers and Mariners, although there had been some bruises along the way in the fashion of relief pitchers galore who tend to defy predictions or practice anything close to consistency.

The Tigers happily signed Lowe last December to a two-year deal worth $11 million.

They have since watched Lowe allow 42 hits in 31⅓ innings, numbers that followed him into Tuesday night’s game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. A man with a fastball that was never considered a blow-away pitch has only 26 strikeouts. More alarmingly, he has been socked for 10 home runs.

But maybe, in the tradition of relievers whose careers look as if they have been riding a pogo stick, Lowe is back in rhythm. What he can’t figure out is why, or how, this 2016 nosedive occurred.

“It has nothing to do with any change in routine,” said Lowe, who throws primarily a fastball that should cruise in the vicinity of 93 mph, as well as a slider. “I kept everything the same this year. In fact, I’ve been trying to find a way to not be struggling to make changes.”

He has looked at video. He has worked with Tigers pitching coach Rich Dubee. He has been focusing on “shortening his arm swing” in a bid to reclaim velocity on his fastball and bend on his slider.

He has gotten a tip from a teammate Justin Verlander.

“He said, ‘Try and throw like a catcher,’” Lowe explained, the implication being that a shorter, quicker release might be an answer. I started focusing on that, and I felt good.”

Lowe is a fan of imagery. A mental picture that has helped, he says, is of surfing.

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“You’re trying to stay on that wave as long as you can till it crashes,” he said. “Then you get back on the board and wait for another wave.”

And the ride, progressively longer and smoother and more gratifying, continues with a sense of achievement and even elation.

That’s what Lowe foresees in the final weeks of 2016.

“My whole mentality for the second half is to have the best second half I’ve ever had,” said Lowe, who pitched at the University of Texas-Arlington before Seattle made him a fifth-round draft pick in 2004. “To pitch better than I ever have before.”

That’s the dream, the vision, the objective.

In Lowe’s mind, surf’s up. It’s time for a long, pleasing ride.