LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Derek Lowe is perceived by most as the fourth-best pitcher in the Braves’ starting rotation. He also is the only starter the team tried to trade this winter.
And what does he get for these two distinctions? A start on opening day. If Bobby Cox wanted to go out with a bang, this is a good way to start.
“He was our winningest pitcher [last year],” Cox explained. But if that told the whole story than the Braves’ never would have tried to trade Lowe and the remaining three years and $45 million on his contract. They couldn’t. So instead they were forced to deal their best pitcher a year ago, Javier Vazquez, for Melky Cabrera and a prospect. But you probably heard about that.)
Here’s David O’Brien’s recap of Cox’s surprising announcement Sunday. The decision had some reason to it. But it’s also typical Cox: Show loyalty to the veteran and try to give him an early confidence boost. Fact is, if Lowe — who had a 6.65 ERA in his final six starts and allowed the second-highest opponents’ batting average in the majors – bounces back this season, it’s a significant boost to the rotation and the team.
Here are the tangible factors: 1) Jair Jurrjens, probably the most deserving opening day starter, has been slowed by a shoulder injury; 2) The team is being cautious with Tim Hudson, even though he came back late last season from Tommy John surgery; 3) Tommy Hanson, another deserving pitcher, is young and Cox probably doesn’t want to put him in that situation.
The rotation the first six games and seven days of the season will go like this: 1-Lowe; 2-off day; 3-Jurrjens; 4-Hanson; 5-Hudson; 6-Lowe; 7-Kenshin Kawakami.
Of pitching opening day, Cox said, “There’s an honor to it. There’s a lot of first-game jitters and excitement. You have to have the makeup to handle it. He can pitch in big games.”
It’s only one of 162 games. But give the backdrop, this was a surprising decision. How do you feel about it?