Detroit — Mark Lowe admits his worst enemy last season may have been the noise inside his head.
“It’s a tough game and playing it at the major league (level) is even tougher,” he said. “But then when you are out there thinking about mechanics and all kinds of other different stuff — who you are facing, what pitch you need to throw, you go through all the at-bats in your head from the past, the scouting reports — I mean it can explode on you in a hurry.”
It did. Lowe, whom the Tigers signed to a two-year, $11 million contract last winter, endured the worst season of his career. He finished with a 7.11 ERA and allowed a career-high 12 home runs in 49⅓ innings.
“I’ve been playing this game my whole life and I’d never done it like that before,” he said. “But I went through it and I got through it. I learned from it. It’s time to move on.”
Lowe went through every malady an otherwise healthy pitcher can go through — loss of velocity, loss of feel on his slider and off-speed pitches, loss of command. And he and pitching coach Rich Dubee went through several different mechanical adjustments.
In the end, what finally worked was — doing nothing. Just going back to the basics and shutting out the noise.
“I went home at the All-Star break and thought about all the things that had gone wrong and why they went wrong,” Lowe said. “I came to the conclusion that I just needed to go out there and compete every day. Just take whatever I have on that day and use it — compete with whatever is coming out of my hand for that day.
“That was my only train of thought for the second half. Just get guys out, no matter what I had to do.”
It worked. Over his last 21 appearances, albeit all in low-leverage situations, Lowe allowed seven runs in 20⅔ innings with 25 strikeouts. His WHIP was 1.2 (down from 1.8 in the first half). Opponents hit .197 against him in the second half (down from .350) and slugged .368 (down from .700).
“At the end you just have to go back to basics and just remember what it was like to play in your back yard,” he said. “You didn’t think about anything. You just played…At the end of the day, I just quit worrying about mechanics altogether.
“I just went out there and pitched. If I had to knock a guy down just to get him to roll over on a pitch down and away, that’s what I did. I just pitched the way I learned when I was young — don’t rely on velocity and stuff, just get guys out.”
Manager Brad Ausmus, speaking Saturday during TigerFest, singled out Lowe and Anibal Sanchez as two pitchers he expects to have strong bounce-back seasons.
“He just never got going last year,” Aumsus said. “We saw flashes of his stuff. We will see how he is in spring training, but I’ve been talking to him and he said he’s found something. He’s had a full offseason to put 2016 behind him.”
With the emergence of Bruce Rondon last year, with prospect Joe Jimenez knocking on the door and with the possibility of Mike Pelfrey working out of the bullpen this season, Lowe understands his spot as one of the right-handed relievers is far from guaranteed.
“I just want to go out and compete,” he said. “The second half (of last season) gave me some confidence to come into spring training and really be ready to go. Every year you go into the offseason and it’s a restart. It’s all new. I am glad last year is over. It’s a new year and I am starting fresh.”