March 8, 2013

Rangers’ Derek Lowe ready to fight for bullpen job

The veteran’s versatility is a strength as he hunts for a spot on the Rangers’ roster.

Derek Lowe looked the part of a late arrival to spring training who is willing to put in the work to make a big-league roster, even though he has no guarantees on where he’ll be on Opening Day.

The veteran right-hander’s face was dripping with sweat Friday morning after his first act in Texas Rangers camp, an 8:15 a.m. bullpen session and the mandatory running that followed.

Live batting practice will follow Saturday, and maybe a Cactus League game early next week.

Lowe knows what he’s facing — beating out several others, who have nearly a month’s head start, to be in the Rangers’ regular-season bullpen — and that nothing he’s done in the past means anything

Despite 16 years in the game, 175 wins, 86 saves and $110 million in career earnings, Lowe must compete for a major-league job.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Lowe said. “You’ve got to win a job. This is the first time in 16 years I’ve had to do that.

“This is the situation. You don’t have three or four weeks to ease into it.”

The Rangers break camp in 19 days and open the season in 22. The 35-pitch bullpen session Lowe threw Friday was only his third of the spring, though he said he has always preferred to build arm strength with his long-toss program.

The Rangers entered Friday with four relievers who had made five appearances apiece, and four others with four each over the first 13 games.

But the Rangers also entered Friday with only two of their seven bullpen spots locked up. Michael Kirkman is considered a strong favorite for another, and so is Robbie Ross if he isn’t the No. 5 starter.

That leaves the likes of right-handers Cory Burns, Josh Lindblom, Yoshinori Tateyama and Evan Meek, and left-handers Nate Robertson, Joe Ortiz and Neal Cotts competing with Lowe for a spot.

And don’t forget Johan Yan (four perfect innings) and Coty Woods (Rule 5 draft pick).

Some have performed well. Others haven’t. But at least they’re performing. That’s a big leg up on Lowe, even for those struggling.

“Right now, they still have time to work some kinks out,” manager Ron Washington said. “That’s spring training. At some point they have to put it together. We’re still sifting, but we’ll leave out of here with people we feel can do the job.”

Lowe isn’t without qualities that others in the hunt don’t have. He’s a veteran, he’s committed to what he does, and he’s realistic about what he has left as a 39-year-old who will turn 40 on June 1.

He needs to be good every time he steps on the mound. He won’t win, place or show in many four-man competitions for the fastest pitch, so his sinker can’t be flat, as it was when the wheels fell off last season as a starter for Cleveland.

“My game is pretty predictable: I’m going to throw sinkers and curveballs,” said Lowe, who was 6-1 to open last season before falling to 8-11 and getting released in early August by the Indians. “I lost deception, hitters could see the ball, and my ball got flat. That’s a deadly combination.”

But he salvaged his season over 17 relief appearances with New York. The first was Aug. 13, four scoreless innings and a save against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.

Lowe’s ability to provide length, and maybe the occasional spot start, makes him unique among those he’ll be competing against this spring. That’s his biggest advantage.

So, he’s back, this time with the Rangers on a minor league deal that could pay him $1.7 million. But nothing will be given to Lowe over the next three weeks.

“You don’t just walk off the street and make this team,” Washington said. “He’s got to make the team.”

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