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Any way you spin it, it's a glitch in rotation

At this point, it isn't clear whether Derek Lowe needs a kick in the behind or a big hug. All he got yesterday was a Band-Aid. Clearly, he is frustrated. This has to be eating him up inside.

Lowe's pitching line -- five innings, eight hits, seven earned runs -- was worse than it should have been, because Lenny DiNardo allowed all three runners he inherited from Lowe to score in the sixth inning of yesterday's 13-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

Nevertheless, Lowe just can't find himself, and it didn't help that he tried to pitch with a cut on his thumb that opened while he was pitching to Javy Lopez leading off the sixth.

The Sox were wearing Lowe's favorite red jerseys -- he had won the last two times he wore the alternate color -- but the more telling red was dabbed on his white pant leg (the blood oozing from the thumb), not to mention a face red with anger as he left the game to a majority of boos.

"I've been around here long enough to realize that they're paying customers," said Lowe. "If I was out there, if I was a fan, I'd boo myself, too. The fans don't boo you as a person, they're booing your performance, just like the next time you pitch well, they're cheering your performance, they don't think you're necessarily a great guy."

Last week, Lowe's agent, Scott Boras, said some of his other clients around the league say that Lowe's sinker is the best it's been since 2002. Perhaps Boras had poor reception on his cellphone, and the clients were really saying "stinker."

Lowe and manager Terry Francona were given every opportunity to use the cut as a reason for the disastrous seven-run inning, but neither would bite.

"I wish I could say it affected me," Lowe said. "It's been a two-month stretch where I've put myself in a lot of bad situations -- a lot of broken-bat hits and walks. There are a lot of guys on base. Common sense will tell you that the least amount of baserunners on, the better you're going to be."

Lowe doesn't want to talk about his numbers, and it's easy to see why. In 51 1/3 innings, he has allowed 103 runners. In his last three starts, he has a 12.83 ERA, allowing 25 hits in 13 1/3 innings. According to statistician Chuck Waseleski, when opponents hit the ball in the air against Lowe, they're batting .595 (44 for 74). They're hitting .242 (30 for 124) on ground balls.

It probably isn't appropriate to call for Lowe's demotion to the bullpen, though if the Sox had that option, that's precisely where he'd go. But bringing up Frank Castillo or giving Jamie Brown a start might not result in a better outcome. Asked about lifting Lowe from the rotation, Francona, who didn't care for the inquiry, said, "Who would start?"

It appears the Sox are simply going to have to ride this out until Lowe gets his stuff together.

Statistically, the Sox still have the best pitching in the American League, but they won't for much longer if their No. 3 starter keeps going like this.

It might be time to bring in another set of eyes. Even an excellent pitching coach such as Dave Wallace can be too close to the action. Lowe clearly has been "flying open" on his delivery from the stretch, but solving what looks to be an obvious problem hasn't been easy. That's why the Red Sox have senior pitching adviser Tony Cloninger, who probably should be summoned to Anaheim or Kansas City on this road trip to take a look at the struggling righthander. Lowe had an outstanding season in '02 when Cloninger was Boston's pitching coach.

Wallace feels Lowe is "making strides" mechanically.

"He's doing OK," said Wallace. "The rest of it comes from within."

How can they unleash that inner stuff that makes big-time pitchers great? Maybe it's time for a Tony Robbins seminar.

Lowe has been trying. He's taking advice from everywhere: from Curt Schilling to Pedro Martinez to Jason Varitek to Wallace to Francona. He works hard on the side with Wallace. But once he gets into the game, it's a bloody mess.

You could spin it as the Sox did yesterday, saying that Lowe pitched better over the first five innings than he has in some time. That's the "glass half-full" view.

"To look back at the day, he's at 64 pitches through five innings, we're down, 2-0," said Francona. "But it got away so quick in the sixth. Once it gets moving in the wrong direction, Derek just can't seem to right the ship right now.

"Sure, it's troubling. If I had a better answer for you right now, I would certainly give it to you. I don't."

Lowe understands something has to give soon. He said he never fully stopped the bleeding on his thumb yesterday. He hasn't stopped the bleeding all season.

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