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Lowe not wild about the walks

Starter hopes to strike back tonight

TORONTO -- All Derek Lowe needed to know about his uneven start jumped out at him from the stat sheet: 16 walks in 32 1/3 innings, or nearly 4.5 walks per nine innings. In his career year of 2002, Lowe issued only 1.97 walks per nine innings.

"The big thing is throwing strikes," the sinkerballer said last night as he prepared to try to snap a personal two-game losing streak tonight when he faces the Blue Jays at SkyDome. "That's the one thing that strikes me is the walks numbers."

Lowe, who issued a season-high five walks (one intentional) in his last outing, Sunday against the Royals, has yet to sustain the excellence he carried out of spring training. Because of rain and rotation shuffling, he went 11 days from his first start against the Orioles until his second appearance, a nightmarish outing against the Yankees. Asked to explain how he had lost his dominant stuff since spring training, he said, "I would say the 11 days didn't help."

Now he faces the prospect of trying to get back on track against the team that has tormented him the most. Lowe is 4-8 with a 5.64 ERA in his career against the Blue Jays and 1-6 with a 6.75 ERA at SkyDome.

Manager Terry Francona said part of the reason Lowe went 11 days between starts in April was to keep him from facing the Jays on the artificial turf at SkyDome.

"It was kind of weird because Derek was fully on board and I ended up seeing some things that didn't sound like that," Francona said.

Lowe insisted he is not averse to pitching at SkyDome. "My numbers aren't exactly pretty, but I enjoy pitching here," he said. "It's a challenge being the kind of pitcher I am, but I would consider [Toronto ace] Roy Halladay a ground-ball pitcher and he's had a lot of success here. I've seen numerous guys come in here and pitch good."

When Lowe was asked whether he was distracted by his uncertain future beyond this season, he dismissed the question.

"It's not even close," Lowe said. "It doesn't ever affect me, not one pitch. If you're worried about what's going to happen in eight months, you're not worried about the right thing."

Francona indicated he was not worried about Lowe. "Coming out of spring training, he was throwing so good, and he will," Francona said. "He's going to have to be patient enough to allow it to come."

Francona was referring to his belief that Lowe may be pressing a bit to make up for lost time. But Lowe said he is focused only on maintaining consistency.

Spot remover From the time the Sox signed Byung Hyun Kim to a two-year, $10 million deal over the winter until his last outing, they steadfastly insisted the Korean star would be a member of their starting rotation as long as he were healthy. No more.

Though Kim may one day return as a starter, the Sox no longer seem to be guaranteeing him a spot.

"I don't know the answer to that," Francona said, when asked if Kim's performance at Triple A Pawtucket would help determine if he returns as a starter. "I guess the best way to answer is, we're trying to win every game we can."

Kim, who was replaced in the rotation by Bronson Arroyo, is scheduled to make his first start for Pawtucket tonight in Charlotte, N.C. He will pitch about every three days, going several innings at a time.

"We're just giving him some innings and a situation where it's not so competitive where he can work out some things and hopefully soon be the pitcher we want him to be," Francona said.

The manager did not buy the theory that Kim has overworked himself into mediocrity. He accepted Kim's explanation that his problems are mechanical.

Walk on by When Curt Schilling issued consecutive walks to Vernon Wells and Carlos Delgado in the first inning last night, it marked the first time in more than a year he had walked two straight batters. The last time was May 3, 2003, when he walked Atlanta's Chipper Jones and Marcus Giles . . . For the second time in five games, Francona turned to one of his two rookie relievers in a tight situation in the sixth inning. The last time, it was Mark Malaska in an 8-4 loss to the Royals at Fenway. This time, it was Lenny DiNardo, who was summoned to face Eric Hinske, the sixth batter in Toronto's order. "I just wanted to get to the top of the order for [Alan] Embree and I thought we could do that," Francona said. DiNardo allowed a double to Hinske and a run-scoring pinch single to Reed Johnson before he committed a costly throwing error on a grounder by the ninth batter in Toronto's order, Kevin Cash . . . Raul Casanova yesterday joined Pawtucket as a first baseman and designated hitter after the Sox signed him as a minor league free agent. He has played in the majors with the Brewers, Tigers, and Orioles, batting .232 in 332 games . . . Third baseman Bill Mueller got a rest for the first time in 16 games as Mark Bellhorn started at third and Cesar Crespo started at second. Crespo batted for the first time since May 2 and connected for a single in the fifth inning, his first hit since April 29 . . . Schilling fell to 1-6 in 12 career appearances against Toronto and dropped to 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in three starts against the Jays this season . . . David Ortiz's solo homer off Miguel Batista was his ninth of the season and his second off Batista, leaving him two shy of his 100th career homer. His only two hits in five career at-bats against Batista have been homers . . . First base coach Lynn Jones, fighting to save the vision in his right eye, is expected to be sidelined for much of the season, if not all of it.

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