Reliever Lowe puts mechanical issues in past
Righty pitching with renewed confidence as he attempts to make Rays
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- On one pitch, Mark Lowe had it. The next, he did not. Mechanical issues were a problem for the right-hander.
Lowe played for the Rangers at the time, working to tighten his delivery under the care of Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux.
"That was 2012, I was throwing a bullpen [with Maddux] and he was trying to get me -- instead of pulling off to the side when I throw, to keep my head on line where I was throwing," Lowe remembered. "And I went out and played a game the next day, and mid-inning, my arm just was getting out real fast. I could still put the ball where I wanted to, but there was no power behind it. I was losing all my power.
"In 2011, I averaged 96 mph on my fastball. In 2012, I went down to 93. And it was all mechanical. I just couldn't get out of it. I feel like that drill just triggered something. For some reason I couldn't throw away. I couldn't get it off me. For two years, I struggled with it."
Lowe is a bullpen hopeful in Rays camp this spring. Now his mechanical issues are behind him, but the journey was not a pleasant one for the veteran right-hander.
Lowe, who plays golf, noted that his mechanical issues weren't like the "shanks" for the simple reason he could still throw strikes.
"I was throwing more strikes than I probably ever have," said Lowe. "I went from throwing powerful -- being like a [golfer] who can hit the ball a long way -- to a guy that is very average on how far he can hit it."
Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey has seen pitchers struggle while looking to find their mechanics.
"Then the mechanical issue becomes a psychological problem," Hickey said. "And that can become the bigger problem. Because I think very few times our inability to do what we want to do is strictly mechanical. It can be partially mechanical. … Just like a hitter, he may have a hitch in his swing and he fails to hit for a while and then it becomes a psychological thing."
Mechanical problem leads to psychological problem and ultimately, according to Lowe, "It becomes a confidence thing."
"And you've got people asking if you got hurt," Lowe said. "In the offseason, teams would be like, 'His velocity dropped three miles per hour. Maybe he's not healthy.' It was the healthiest I'd ever been. I felt great. It was 100 percent a mechanical thing."
Lowe watched old videos, talked to former coaches, and he still could not figure out how to correct his problem. But the problem was there and it wasn't subtle thing.
"Even the casual fan could have seen the difference because I've always been a guy who really gets loaded on my backside and then explodes everything like a catapult," Lowe said. "I know when I went back to play against Seattle [the team he played for from 2006-2010], even the broadcasters were like, 'You're throwing different now.' And I'm like, 'I'm not trying to.'"
Lowe figured out the problem before the 2012 season ran its course, he just "couldn't shake it." Even in the offseason he found frustration.
"In the offseason, I tried to fix it, couldn't fix it," he said.
Lowe signed with the Angels prior to the 2013 season and appeared in 11 games, posting a 1-0 record with a 9.26 ERA in 11 appearances, which prompted his release on June 6. He signed with the Nationals and spent the remainder of the season at Triple-A Syracuse.
Lowe credited his Syracuse teammates for helping him find his way.
"My teammates, we kind of talked about it," Lowe said. "I told them what I was going through. My roommate was Tyler Robinson. And we could sit and talk about it. That was the first time I had a roommate in seven years playing baseball. We just talked about things he does, and picked the brains of my other teammates. And it just ended up working."
What they found ran counter to what Maddux tried to get Lowe to do.
"Instead of how Maddux was telling me to keep my head towards my target, I had the thought process of keeping my body weight going toward my target, regardless of my head," Lowe said. "But that's how pitching is. One small thought process. It could mean the same thing, but given to you in the wrong words, could make you do something completely different."
Though Lowe worked with Maddux when the problem arose, he doesn't blame the Rangers' pitching coach for what happened.
"For me, mechanically it didn't work, what he was trying to get me to do," Lowe said. "And that's the way baseball is. Not every pitching coach can help everybody."
Lowe feels as though he's back on track, though he did make one subtle alteration to help him become quicker to the plate.
"This year, when I went out to play catch, I found that when I come set and I just get a little glove tap and put the ball back in my glove, it resets everything and gets me loaded powerfully again," Lowe said. "And so I'm able to just barely kick my leg up, and that glove tap gets me going. Instead of having to turn and waste a lot of time getting back around and uncoiling."
Lowe's tinkering did not interfere with his core mechanics that affect how he throws a baseball.
The Rays signed Lowe on Nov. 20. He has renewed confidence and has a serious chance of making the team.
"We did target him last year, did not get him, got him this year," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "And we have a pretty good idea about what we think he's capable of doing. It's just about opportunity."
Added Hickey: "He looks really good to me."
Any thoughts about mechanical issues are now out of Lowe's mind, which is a good thing.
"If you're a player, whether you're a pitcher, a catcher, or a shortstop, if you're thinking about your mechanics, you're not going to be successful, period," Hickey said.
Ultimately, a pitcher has to figure out what works for him.
"I know what's best for me," Lowe said. "Where I'm at right now, all I have to do is stay healthy and I'll be able to perform. I actually feel powerful again. Feel like I can throw a fastball past somebody again. I feel like I'm actually using my body the right way. So it's been good."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.