Lowe's struggles continue in last start

Lowe's struggles continue in last start

ATLANTA -- Derek Lowe can take solace in the fact that his frustrating season has come to a close. As for the Braves, they have to continue to worry about the possibility that these past few months might be a sign of things to come from the veteran hurler who is owed $45 million over the next three seasons.

Lowe's inaugural season in Atlanta began in impressive fashion on Opening Night as he limited the defending world champion Phillies to two hits over eight scoreless innings.

It ended in unceremonious fashion at Turner Field on Friday night, when the 103-loss Nationals pounded Lowe and rolled toward a 6-3 win over the slumbering Braves, who just four days ago were excited about the prospect of fighting for a playoff spot this weekend.

"It's disappointing, it's frustrating, but it's over," said Lowe, whose 15 wins were blemished by a 4.67 ERA. "I won't have to go out there and bang my head against the wall anymore this year. I want to come back next year with better stuff, and be more competitive."

Like the Braves would like to forget the fact that they've lost four straight since matching a season-best seventh consecutive win on Monday, Lowe would certainly welcome the opportunity to erase the last part of the season that saw him going 3-3 with a 6.84 ERA in his final nine starts.

"It was frightening how bad I've gotten mechanically," said Lowe, who plans to return to Fort Myers, Fla., this week and immediately begin working with a friend to regain the deception he lost with his delivery as this season progressed.

Before saying goodbye to his 2009 frustrations, Lowe saw them increased by the Nationals, who pounded him for six runs -- five earned -- and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings. Given that he matched a season-high five walks and allowed at least two baserunners to reach safely during each of the five innings that he worked, the veteran sinkerballer could have been staring at an even uglier line.

"He got the ball up and couldn't get any calls down," manager Bobby Cox said. Plate umpire Jerry Meals "wouldn't call one down all night long, and it cost [Lowe] because he had to bring the ball up a little bit."

Even with Lowe's struggles, the Braves rotation still entered Friday with a Major League-best 3.52 ERA.

In an attempt to produce the financial position that would allow them to bring back both Tim Hudson and Javier Vazquez next season, the Braves are expected to at least explore the possibility of trading Lowe's big contract to a big-market, pitching-hungry club.

At the same time, the Braves are cognizant of the fact that Lowe's presence took pressure off the other members of their rotation. And they are well-aware that as recently as June 9, the 35-year-old right-hander had completed a 23-start stretch dating back to 2008 that was highlighted by a 2.50 ERA.

Lowe's frustration stems from the 5.59 ERA he has posted in the 21 starts that have followed.

"He's a good pitcher," Cox said. "He just gets off every once in a while."

Lowe's latest struggles were a welcome sign to Ian Desmond, who socked the Braves veteran with a second-inning leadoff homer and two-run third-inning triple.

When Lowe exited after surrendering a two-out fifth-inning single to Alberto Gonzalez, it marked just the fourth time since Aug. 1 that a Braves starter didn't complete at least five innings in a game that wasn't affected by rain.

"This is really how it's been for about three months, and I don't know where it went wrong," said Lowe, who accounted for three of those four short outings. "I just got into so many bad habits as far as mechanically, and we put a lot of time and effort into trying to correct it. It just seemed like it was never there."

While Lowe struggled, Livan Hernandez, who had gone 1-7 with a 6.99 ERA in his previous 10 starts, had little trouble continuing to subdue a Braves offense that had hit just .197 during the previous four games on this homestand. Two of the three runs surrendered by the Nationals right-hander over 6 1/3 innings came via the two-run second-inning double he surrendered to David Ross.

When the Braves arrived at Turner Field on Tuesday, they were just two games behind the Rockies in the National League Wild Card race with five games to play. Four losses later, they've refocused their attention toward finishing ahead of the Marlins, who are tied with them for second in the NL East standings.

"We don't want to finish third," Cox said. "It's not a letdown. We just couldn't hold them early."

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