LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — I love spring training. It’s better than the training camps in other sports because the regular season is so long, and when things go bad a team still has to suffer through prolonged misery and play out 162-game season until it gets a chance to be optimistic again — in February.
Spring training is like big cleansing breath for teams — and some players.
I didn’t plan for my first stop this morning to be Derek Lowe’s locker, it just sort of turned out that way. Lowe didn’t quite “suffer” last season. He did win 15 games. In fact, when it was brought to his attention that only 22 starters won 15 games last season, he exclaimed: “That makes me feel better. I’m a bad ass!”
But the last two months of the season (3-3, 6.65 ERA, .413 opponents on-base percentage in his last nine starts), combined with the second-worst opponents batting average among starers in the majors (.301), combined with the Braves’ failed attempts to trade him, combined with the trading of Javier Vasquez, combined with Lowe’s salary — well, you get the idea. There was some misery.
But Lowe is not miserable now. If he is, he’s doing a great job hiding it. In fact, when I asked him if he planned to use criticism from last season as a motivation, he laughed and said: “Once you’ve played in Boston for eight years, it’s no big deal. I’ve been criticized w0rse than this. What’s anybody going to say that I haven’t already heard?”
Lowe is a good guy. He admits he was bothered when the team was looking to deal him, and that nobody in the front office warned him of possible trade talks. But he said, “It really wasn’t a matter of me having to get over something. It had everything to do with me wanting to stay here. I put myself in this situation because of the last two months and we had a surplus of pitchers. I understand that. But I didn’t come into camp with anything negative, and I wasn’t mad at anybody.
“The whole thing has just spiraled out of control, like I was going to be a cancer and I had to be traded . It was just a unique situation. If you look at the last four or five years, statistically I had one of my worst seasons and Javy had his best. So I could see why people would say, ‘Yeah, it’s a no-brainer. Trade him.’ But I’m fine.”
That’s good. Because questions about the Braves’ lineup, a strong season by Lowe helps turn this pitching rotation into one that can get the team to the postseason again. Think about it. Lowe is the No. 4 starter. You can put Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens in any order one through three. Kenshin Kawakami is No. 5. Lowe — whose $15 million salary exceeds the combined totals of Hudson, Hanson and Jurrjens (just over $10 million) — is No. 4. How strange is that?
OK, that’s it for now. I’ll check back later with a blog about utility player Eric Hinske and the massive tattoo on his back that was just finished this winter — you won’t believe it until you see the photo — and then a column later today on either Jason Heyward or Yunel Escobar. (One is team’s future. The other is the team’s best all-around player. Just haven’t decided which to write first.”
Finally, if you missed the earlier blog, I’m taking your questions to be asked to players and coaches. Click the previous blog here and post your questions, or send me a note on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC).