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In a groove, Lowe likely to open NLDS

In a groove, Lowe likely to open NLDS

ATLANTA -- When Derek Lowe exited August with his right elbow ailing and just two wins in his previous 13 starts, the Braves didn't know whether they would be able to depend on him for the remainder of the season.

But after completing a sensational September that was spurred by a meeting with pitching coach Roger McDowell, Lowe heads into this postseason as the Braves' hottest pitcher and with a sense of confidence that he had lacked during most of these past two seasons.

"His last four starts have been dominating," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He's really been impressive."

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Tale of the Tape: NLDS Game 1
2010 Regular Season
Overall: 33 GS, 16-12, 4.00 ERA, 61 BB, 136 Ks
Overall: 33 GS, 16-10, 3.43 ERA, 76 BB, 231 Ks
Key stat: Five consecutive wins
Key stat: 231 Ks, 3rd in MLB
Postseason
2010: N/A
Career: 21 G (10 GS), 5-5, 3.33 ERA
2010: N/A
Career: N/A
At AT&T PARK
2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.50 ERA Career: 8 GS, 5-1, 1.98 ERA
2010: 17 GS, 9-7, 3.69 ERA Career: 62 GS, 30-15, 3.06 ERA
Against this opponent
2010: 2 GS, 2-0, 2.38 ERA Career: 17 GS, 7-5, 3.02 ERA
2010: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.38 ERA Career: 8 GS, 6-2, 2.89 ERA
Loves to face: Jose Guillen (3-for-20, 7 Ks)
Hates to face: Aubrey Huff (10-for-40, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs)
Loves to face: Rick Ankiel (2-for-12, 3 Ks)
Hates to face: Brian McCann (8-for-22, 3 doubles, 1 HR)
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: 5-0, 1.17 ERA in Sept.
Why he'll win: 52 Sept. strikeouts
Pitcher beware: 9 HR allowed in postseason
Pitcher beware: First postseason start
Bottom line: Savvy veteran
Bottom line: He's back on track

Once the Braves were forced to use Tim Hudson in Sunday's regular-season finale -- an 8-7 win over the Phillies -- Lowe became the mostly likely candidate to pitch Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Giants at AT&T Park on Thursday.

Lowe went 5-0 with a 1.17 ERA in the five starts he made after skipping a Sept. 3 outing because of discomfort caused by a bone chip in his right elbow.

"Clearly, you want to pitch like this in the postseason," Lowe said. "People will remember that more than what you did in September."

Lowe is certainly no stranger to the pressures of October. The 37-year-old right-hander went into Yankee Stadium and limited New York to one run in six innings while leading the Red Sox to a Game 7 victory that completed their improbable comeback in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

One week later, Lowe produced seven scoreless innings in the clinching fourth game of the 2004 Fall Classic, which gave Red Sox fans a chance to celebrate their first World Series championship since 1918.

"You play the game to be able to have the chance to pitch in big games," Lowe said. "It's something we all strive to do."

Lowe's turnaround has been aided by the fact that he's no longer feeling alarming discomfort in his right elbow. But he credits his recent success to the meeting he had with McDowell a few hours before the right-hander matched a career high with 12 strikeouts and completed eight scoreless innings against a Nationals club that had given him fits over the past couple of years.

While looking at film of Lowe's past starts, McDowell was able to convince the sinkerballer that he needed to start showing more confidence in pitches other than his sinker.

While displaying a wider array of pitches, Lowe has relocated the slider that had helped him find regular success during his days with the Dodgers and Red Sox.

"The breaking ball over the last month has been kind of how I remember it being," Lowe said. "It was pretty bad for a long time. This is how it is normally, so it's good to kind of see that come back to form at the right time."

Lowe will begin this postseason run in an environment that has proved to be friendly to him in the past. He is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in eight career starts at AT&T Park. He proved victorious in both of his starts against the Giants this year and has gone 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his past five starts against them.

It is likely that Tommy Hanson will start Game 2 and Tim Hudson will get the ball for Game 3, which will be held Sunday at Turner Field.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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