From closer to starter, Lowe was masterful
Derek Lowe was golden in making the transition from closer to starter for the Red Sox last season.
Following a disastrous 2001 season that saw him lose his closer's role to teammate Ugueth Urbina, Lowe returned to the starting rotation where he had worked prior to coming to Boston in a trade from Seattle in 1997.
The switch worked better than either Lowe or the Red Sox could have dreamed. Lowe won 21 games (including a no-hitter), finished with the second-best ERA in the American League (2.58) and placed third in the balloting for the AL Cy Young Award. Moreover, he gave the Red Sox their first bona-fide No. 2 starter to pair with staff ace Pedro Martinez.
"If they're going to do it,'' said Lowe recently, "it's good that they're doing it at the start of the year. It's much harder to do in the middle of the season because you don't have time to prepare. You can prepare in the offseason.''
After the 2001 season, Lowe dedicated himself to a winter-long conditioning program, aimed at building up his legs for added endurance. But the mental adjustments are as dramatic as the physical ones.
As a reliever, Lowe knew that he had a chance to pitch almost every day. As a starter, he had to get comfortable with a schedule which had him pitching just once every fifth day.
"People are probably making too big a deal out of it,'' said Lowe of the switch. "I had years when I pitched over 100 innings in a season in relief and Graves has, too. So you're only talking about another 90 innings or so.''
Still, Lowe admitted, the first few months will be different for both Graves and Kim and a good start is imperative. Lowe was 4-1 with a 2.04 ERA in April, earning himself American League Pitcher of the Month honors. Had he struggled, he might have questioned both himself and the decision to start.
"You have to get off to a good start because everybody is going to be watching closely to see how it goes,'' Lowe said. "You're under a microscope. The good starts keep adding up and you get on a roll. The flip side, if you start out bad, you start doubting yourself and your ability and before you know it, you're in a hole.''
Lowe used his strong April to propel him through the rest of the season. He went undefeated over a span of seven starts and by June, was the league's first 10-game winner.
Graves and Kim will also come to realize the significance of finding a between-starts program that works for them.
|“||You have to get off to a good start because everybody is going to be watching closely to see how it goes. You're under a microscope. The good starts keep adding up and you get on a roll. The flip side, if you start out bad, you start doubting yourself and your ability and before you know it, you're in a hole. ”|
|— Derek Lowe, on the transition from being a closer to a starter|
"It's easy not to work hard (in between starts),'' he said. "But you have to do it because your body takes more of a pounding when you start.''
If the physical demands are greater, Lowe added, the mental stress is less. As a starter, there's a greater margin for error than in the eighth or ninth inning, when the game often hangs in the balance.
"Everybody remembers Kim for giving up a couple of runs in (2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium),'' Lowe said. "But you can give up two runs in a start and still have a very good outing. It's an easier mentality -- every pitch isn't life or death, the way it can be when you're closing and every pitch can be the last one of the game.''
Having faced down those late-inning situations, however, should make Graves and Kim better equipped to handle the duties of a starter.
"There's something to be said about knowing how to get the last couple of outs in a game,'' Lowe said. "It gives you confidence.''
As a set-up man and closer, Lowe could subsist on just two pitches -- a strong curveball and a nasty two-seam fastball. He used the curveball when he needed a strikeout and a sinker when he needed a groundball. But once he moved into the rotation, Lowe had to expand his repertoire.
"Hitters will make adjustments on you,'' he said. "It's one thing to get three, four or five outs. But when you have to go through the order three or four times, you have to be able to mix it up a little more.''
While Lowe doesn't like to classify himself as a trailblazer, he does acknowledge that his successful transformation from closer to starter may have gotten the D-Backs and Reds thinking. Just as Lowe was once developed as a starter, Kim was a starting pitcher in his native Korea and Graves started at the University of Miami.
"I think (the success I had) probably did influence those decisions,'' Lowe acknowledged. "How much, I don't know. But Graves is primarily a sinkerballer like me. (The Reds) probably figured, 'If that guy (Lowe) can do it ...' ''
Last weekend in Sarasota, Fla., Lowe and Graves pitched against one another. Had that not been the case, Lowe said he would have sought out the Reds righty and offered some advice.
As it is, he'll be watching how both Graves and Kim adapt. Closers-turned-starters is, for now, a smallish fraternity.
"They kind of took the same path I did,'' Lowe said. "You wish them nothing but good. I'll be rooting for them.''
Sean McAdam of the Providence (R.I.) Journal covers baseball for ESPN.com.
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