Lowe can end recent trends vs. Phils

Lowe can end recent trends vs. Phils

As he prepares to make his fourth career Opening Day start, Derek Lowe won't need to spend much time familiarizing himself with the Phillies. Counting last year's National League Championship Series, this will be his third consecutive start against the defending World Series champions.

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"Other than [Raul] Ibanez, I'm pretty familiar with that lineup," Lowe said. "That lineup is the one that's the freshest in my mind, and at the same time, they're familiar with me."

Unfortunately for Lowe, his lasting memories from last year's NLCS center around Jimmy Rollins, who will be the first batter Lowe faces when the Braves and Phillies open the Major League season at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.

During his NLCS Game 1 start against the Phillies, Lowe didn't allow a run before surrendering decisive homers to Chase Utley and Pat Burrell in the sixth inning. The only two runs he surrendered during his Game 4 start came in the first inning, which began with a Rollins single.

"You have to prevent allowing Rollins to get on base to begin an inning," Lowe said. "They have other ways to beat you, but you have to concentrate on making sure he's not on base when those guys in the middle of their lineup come to the plate."

While attempting to fare better than he did for the Dodgers during last year's NLCS, Lowe will also be attempting to end the struggles he's encountered during previous Opening Day starts. He went 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA during the three season-opening assignments that he was presented over the course of the past four years with the Dodgers.

This is a fact that likely won't be lost among those rabid Phillies fans, who are sure to heckle Lowe while celebrating their first opportunity to view their team as reigning World Series champs.

"Those fans have no problem telling you how they feel about you," Lowe said. "There's going to be a lot of excitement there. They're going to be raising their [World Series] flag and all that. It's going to be fun and I'm looking forward to it." If his patented sinker is working, Lowe has every reason to look forward to another start at Citizens Bank Park. In three career regular-season starts there, he has gone 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA. His most recent regular-season outing there occurred Aug. 11, when he allowed three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.

That victorious effort began a 10-start stretch during which he went 6-1 with a 1.12 ERA and limited opponents to a .195 batting average. His late-season surge provided the Braves a sense of confidence when they presented him with a four-year, $60 million contract in January.

"Lowe and Brandon Webb have the best sinkers in the game," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "When Derek has that sinker working, there are nights when he's unhittable."

Lowe has been anything but unhittable during his previous Opening Day starts. His finest season-opening effort came in 2005, when he allowed two runs in seven innings and was outdueled by Jason Schmidt. While starting the next two openers against the Braves and Brewers, he totaled nine innings, surrendered 17 hits and allowed 13 earned runs.

"I think the fault in two of my first three Opening Day games has been allowing the emotion to dictate my success, and there hasn't been success," Lowe said.

While making his first career start for the Braves, Lowe would like nothing more than to finally realize success amid the festive surroundings of Opening Day.

"He's ready to go," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He was lights-out during Spring Training and his work ethic is incredible. We're happy to have him on our staff."

Pitching matchup
ATL: RHP Derek Lowe (14-11, 3.24)
Lowe, who has gone 4-0 with a 2.58 ERA during his past six regular-season starts against the Phillies, relies primarily on a sinker that helped him record a 1.59 groundout-to-flyout ratio last year. That ranked as the NL's ninth-best mark.

PHI: Brett Myers (10-13, 4.55)
With Cole Hamels pushed back because of inflammation in his left elbow, Myers will make his third consecutive Opening Day start for the Phillies. He allowed three earned runs in 7 2/3 innings and got a no-decision while opening the 2007 season against the Braves. He allowed 10 earned runs and surrendered 19 hits in the 8 2/3 innings he totaled in two starts against Atlanta last year.

Tidbits
Phillies slugger Ryan Howard has hit .342 with 24 homers and a 1.140 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) in 66 games against the Braves. But the former NL MVP has recorded just two singles in 16 career at-bats against Lowe. ... This will be the fourth consecutive season the Braves have opened on the road, and their only wins during this span came in games started by Lowe and Myers. They defeated Lowe's Dodgers to open the 2006 season and Myers' Phillies in 2007.

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Up next
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Braves (Jair Jurrjens 13-10, 3.68) at Phillies (Jamie Moyer 16-7, 3.71 ), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Wednesday: Braves (Javier Vazquez 12-16, 4.67) at Phillies (Joe Blanton 9-12, 4.69), 3:05 p.m. ET

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