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Lowe prefers not to be spun out of Braves’ rotation

By Nick Cafardo
November 29, 2009

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Derek Lowe acknowledges he was “horrible’’ the last two months of the season and that the Braves have a plethora of starting pitching, but does that mean he is going to be traded after one season in Atlanta?

The former Red Sox righthander said from his home in Fort Myers, Fla., that he has not been told anything of the kind by team officials. At least not yet. But he has heard the reports from media outlets that the Braves have shopped him around in hopes of landing a hitter.

“I know they have holes they want to fill, and I know, from my perspective, when you pitch as poorly as I pitched, and given the caliber of the starting pitchers we have, I wouldn’t be surprised by something like that,’’ he said. “But in terms of whether someone called me to tell me, ‘Would you be interested in being traded somewhere?’ No, I haven’t received that call.’’

Lowe, who does not have a no-trade provision in the four-year, $60 million contract he signed last offseason, says he thoroughly enjoys pitching in Atlanta and would love to remain there. There was a reason he chose Atlanta, and nothing has happened in one season to change his opinion.

“It’s a first-class organization from top to bottom,’’ Lowe said. “If it’s reached this point, it’s no one’s fault but my own. To [pitching coach] Roger McDowell’s credit, he watched all sorts of video with me, and we finally pinpointed some of the things I was doing wrong, but I was never able to go out there and correct it.

“I can’t explain it over the phone, but it was one of the worst mechanical funks I’ve ever been in in my career. And the frustration was, I knew what I was doing but couldn’t do anything to change it.

“I’ve been working with [trainer] Chris Correnti, who is down here, and we’re doing some things to help correct it so I can get back to doing what I’ve always done.

“I know that everyone looks at how you finish a season and not your whole body of work. When I was in LA the last year, I finished strong and it enabled me to go out in free agency and sign this type of deal. And it’s only fair that people judge what I did the last two months and, like I said, I was horrible. I was doing things out there that were mind-boggling to me.’’

Lowe allowed 232 hits, the most in the National League, over 194 2/3 innings. He lasted seven innings in only two of his last 21 starts, yet managed to win four of his last five and went 15-10 with a 4.67 ERA in 34 starts, which was also tops in the NL. Being a sinkerball pitcher, Lowe has always been prone to allowing hits, but he’d never been hit quite like this before.

The Braves have a deep rotation, including the comebacking Tim Hudson, who was recently signed to a three-year, $28 million deal. They have one of the ERA leaders in Jair Jurrjens, flamethrower Tommy Hanson, veteran Javier Vazquez, who had a very good season, and Kenshin Kawakami. Six starters for five spots. They also had a decent bullpen, though Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are currently on the free agent market.

What the Braves need is offense, and they could part with a starter to get it. Yet Lowe’s contract would be affordable for only a few teams.

There’s also the possibility that they convert a starter to the bullpen. There were reports earlier in the offseason that Lowe could be that guy - he has closed for the Red Sox in the past.

Lowe was amused by that idea.

“Don’t think that would happen with me,’’ Lowe said. “Maybe at another time in my career, but not now.’’

Lowe said the unsettling part of the trade rumors is that this time he has no control over the situation.

“Except for the time when Seattle traded me to Boston, I’ve always had the ability to decide where I wanted to play,’’ he said, “so that part is a little bit unsettling.

“But I understand this is a business and I know the Braves have some things they’d like to do. I hope I can be here because I really enjoy it. It’s great playing for Bobby [ Cox], and we’re heading into his last year.

“This is a tremendous pitching staff. I think it’s the best in the National League. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens.

“The important thing for me right now is to work hard and try to correct my mechanics and get back to being the pitcher I know I can be.’’

NOT CAUGHT SHORT
Red Sox can replace Gonzalez, and get on to bigger business
While Red Sox Nation isn’t happy about the loss of Alex Gonzalez to the Blue Jays, there really shouldn’t be a shortstop issue if Jed Lowrie is healthy and the Sox acquire someone like Marco Scutaro. Anyway, the Sox have bigger fish to fry with Jason Bay/Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez/Miguel Cabrera and John Lackey/Roy Halladay.

The Sox still believe Lowrie will be a very good major league shortstop, but they’re not going to wait for him. It’s up to Lowrie to demonstrate with conviction that he’s their guy. If not, he’ll be a trade chip or a utility player, which I don’t think is what he had in mind for his career.

The Sox have inquired about Scutaro, and don’t rule out a deal with the Diamondbacks for Stephen Drew or even the signing of Adam Everett, a tremendous defensive shortstop.

The Sox weren’t exactly blindsided by Gonzalez, but they hoped he would wait a couple of weeks before making a decision. It appears they would have offered the same $2.75 million, or maybe even more, but Gonzalez got antsy and didn’t want to be left out of the market. So he decided to sign where a starting shortstop was needed, even though it means taking his bad knees to a turf field.

While Theo Epstein loves Halladay, he doesn’t love the idea of giving up Clay Buchholz and Casey Kelly in the same deal. Halladay will be 33 by next season and needs to be signed long-term. He has a gifted shoulder, yes, but much like Josh Beckett’s, it has a lot of wear and tear on it.

So the spike in Halladay-Sox reports this past week fizzled about as quickly as the Sox-Johan Santana talks two years ago. Unless some sense of realism overtakes the Blue Jays, it’s not going to happen.

The ideal scenario for the Sox is signing Lackey and using Buchholz as a chip for a major hitter like Gonzalez or Cabrera.

Many baseball people feel Padres general manager Jed Hoyer would be crazy not to deal Gonzalez now, because he risks Gonzalez getting hurt this season and his value not being as high as it is right now. By the time the Padres are good, Gonzalez will be a $20-million-a-year player - completely out of the Padres’ price range - and by then, a big-market team like Boston may not need him.

If the Tigers are trying to pare payroll, Cabrera could provide them with the biggest savings. He is also a very good first baseman who would be downright dangerous at Fenway Park.

While John Henry was in Florida when the Marlins signed Cabrera at age 16, that would not help the Sox get him. Remember, Henry was very close to A.J. Burnett, too.

BALLOT QUESTIONS
Hall voters will decide on Alomar, Larkin, Martinez, and others
Roberto Alomar, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Barry Larkin, and Ellis Burks were interesting new names on the Hall of Fame ballot that was released Friday.

Alomar is likely to gain entry on the first ballot. Voters should also have strong consideration for Larkin, who batted .295 and had 2,340 hits, and Martinez, a .312 career hitter with a .418 on-base percentage.

Andre Dawson will be on the ballot for the ninth year; he received 67 percent of the vote last time, when Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson were elected. Also moving closer was Bert Blyleven, who garnered 62.7 percent of the vote and will be entering his 13th year on the ballot.

Alomar, a career .300 hitter who won 10 Gold Gloves, is a no-brainer. He redefined the second base position defensively and offensively. He also stole 474 bases and knocked in 1,134 runs.

Larkin will be interesting; he was a 12-time All-Star, not flashy but very consistent in the field.

The big question is whether voters will make Martinez the first exclusive DH in the Hall. Martinez, like Rice, Orlando Cepeda, and Tony Perez, might take a while to get through.

The key for McGriff and Martinez is to get 5 percent of vote, which keeps them on the ballot for 15 years.

Mark McGwire, while ignored by the majority of voters, has managed to stay on the ballot, and that could help him down the road if he ever admits to steroid use.

Guys I will likely vote for: Dawson, Blyleven, Alomar, Larkin, and Martinez.

Etc.

Apropos of nothing
1. The 10 most asked-about baseball players (in order) on Ask.com this year: Alex Rodriguez, Tim Lincecum, Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Albert Pujols, Jacoby Ellsbury, Hideki Matsui; 2. I think the MLB Network is addictive; 3. Tom Glavine will be inducted into Cooperstown with the Class of 2014; 4. There’s no good reason why Randy Johnson shouldn’t pitch again in 2010; 5. Wonder what Pablo Sandoval’s ceiling would be if the Giants put a couple of good hitters around him.

Updates on nine . . .
1. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Rangers - Once prominent in trade rumors regarding to Red Sox, he is heading to the Dominican Republic for two weeks of winter ball to test his right shoulder, in which he experienced numbness in August. He eventually had season-ending surgery but appears to be ready to go for 2010. “Just heading down for a couple of weeks and then doing the rest of my rehab to get ready for spring training,’’ the 24-year-old switch-hitting backstop said.

2. Carl Crawford, LF, Rays - Lots of teams - maybe even the Yankees - want him, and the Rays are still trying to decide what they want to do. Crawford is a big clubhouse presence, a player everyone looks up to. There may come a time when Rays ownership bites the bullet and says this is one player they need to keep and works out a long-term commitment.

3. Kevin Millwood, RHP, Rangers - The Brewers have made a few inquiries about his availability, but so far the Rangers haven’t been inclined to move him. Millwood went 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA last season, but with a change of leagues, he might flourish. So much is up in the air with the Texas ownership situation unresolved. Trading Millwood could allow the Rangers to use some of the money toward John Lackey.

4. Josh Willingham, OF, Nationals - Teams including the Giants, Mariners, and Braves have interest in the former Marlin, who hit .260 with 24 homers and 61 RBIs last season in 427 at-bats. Could he be a good platoon in Boston with former Marlin Jeremy Hermida if the Sox fail to re-sign Jason Bay?

5. Koby Clemens, C, Astros farm system - The Astros are going to use him as a multi-positional player, sort of a Brandon Inge. The plan is to play him as a third baseman, left fielder, and catcher and let him develop as a hitter. Clemens, 22, hit a combined .341 with 22 homers and 123 RBIs last season, mostly at Lancaster (Calif.), and was moved up to Double A Corpus Christi at the end of the season.

6. Miguel Tejada, SS/3B, free agent - There’s no doubt he can still hit and will end up somewhere, with the Cardinals a good bet unless they opt for Mike Lowell (with the Sox picking up some of the contract). Tejada is on the radar of the Giants, Rangers, Orioles, and possible Mariners, who will lose Adrian Beltre.

7. Justin Duchscherer, RHP, free agent - He spent all of 2009 trying to put himself together physically and emotionally (depression), but he has turned the corner and is the most intriguing name linked to the Sox thus far. Duchscherer, who has great stuff, could be a nice piece in the Boston rotation.

8. Nelson Cruz, OF, Rangers - Another outfielder/righthanded bat who could be a target of the Braves.

9. Dan Uggla, 2B, Marlins - If they trade him to the Giants or Sox, where would the 30-homer, 90-RBI threat play? One National League scout said, “He could probably play first base or left field, but not sure he could go to third base. He could give someone some nice righthanded power, though.’’

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: “Over the last six years, Miguel Cabrera has averaged 159 games per season. His 953 games are tied with Ichiro Suzuki for the most over that time period.’’ Also, “Among catchers, the leading home run hitter of the decade was Jorge Posada, who had 208. He was followed by Mike Piazza (187), Ivan Rodriguez (161), Jason Varitek (148), and Javy Lopez (141). BTW: Posada needs 36 RBIs to reach 1,000 for his career.’’ . . . The movie “Touching the Game, Alaska,’’ narrated by former Sox reliever Mike Timlin, will be released tomorrow. It is from the Boston-area filmmakers who also made “Touching the Game, the Story of the Cape Cod Baseball League.’’ . . . Happy birthdays are in order for Joe Price (53) and Mike Easler (59).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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