CLEVELAND -- Derek Lowe has been a leader in the Indians' rotation and was a catalyst for the team's solid run out of the gates this season. Over the past two months, the veteran starter has served as a symbol of Cleveland's stumble down the standings.
On Friday night, Lowe labored in an abbreviated effort against the Orioles, sending the Indians to a disheartening 10-2 loss in the Tribe's return to Progressive Field. The sinkerballer lasted just three innings and set an unfortunate tone in the opener of this seven-game homestand.
After his performance, Lowe leaned against a post next to his locker inside the Indians' clubhouse, searching for something to say about his performance. Typically upbeat, and usually willing to maintain a sense of humor, Lowe was at a loss.
"I really have nothing to say," Lowe said. "The game speaks for itself. It was an embarrassing game. I have a lot of work to do. You look at the way I started, and the last six weeks, it couldn't be any different. It's embarrassing, frustrating, all of the above."
Lowe (8-8) surrendered nine runs on seven hits against the Orioles, who pounded out six runs on four hits in the third inning. Complicating matters was the fact that Cleveland did little on offense against righty Miguel Gonzalez, who picked up the win after holding the Tribe to one run over his 6 2/3 frames.
Dating back to May 26, the 39-year-old Lowe has gone 2-6 with an 8.31 ERA in 10 starts, giving up 48 earned runs on 75 hits over 52 innings. In his previous nine turns, the right-hander went 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA for the Indians (47-46). Over the stretch that includes Lowe's last 10 starts, the Tribe has gone 21-28, dropping from first to third place in the American League Central.
It is reminiscent to last September, when Lowe went 0-5 with an 8.75 ERA for the Braves during their fall from postseason contention. Over the offseason, Cleveland swung a trade for Lowe, and went to work on correcting some issues with his pitch distribution and delivery mechanics. Manager Manny Acta said on Friday that Lowe remains a "work in progress" between his outings.
"We [traded for] Derek to go come over here and take the ball every five days and to give us innings," Acta said. "For the most part, he's done that. No one here was anticipating him coming in and pitching the way he pitched the first month for sixth months."
Perhaps some type of regression was expected, but not at such a swift and brutal rate.
Lowe's problems on the mound have fallen in line with Cleveland's overall rotation struggles. Justin Masterson (6-8, 4.29) and Ubaldo Jimenez (8-9, 5.24) have performed well below expectations. Josh Tomlin (5-6, 5.51) has not lived up to his showing a year ago. Jeanmar Gomez (the fifth starter on Opening Day) is back in Triple-A.
The Indians have a 4.59 ERA as a team through 93 games, a mark that ranks 13th in the American League and is more than a half-run higher than Cleveland's ERA (4.05) through the same point last season. The Tribe's pitching staff also entered Friday with the third-highest walk total (322) in the AL.
"We have been inconsistent," Acta said. "We are second to last in ERA, which is something we need to improve upon if we want to move ahead and win this division. We're in the top three in walks, which is something that doesn't help."
There were some positives for the Indians on Friday night. Asdrubal Cabrera and Jack Hannahan each belted a home run, and left fielder Johnny Damon made a highlight-reel catch in the third inning, leaping into the left-field seats in foul territory to make a catch on a fly ball from Baltimore's Nick Markakis.
That was the extent of the silver lining.
"I dug us a hole that we had no chance of getting out of," Lowe said.
In the first inning, J.J. Hardy doubled and later scored on a wild pitch to put Baltimore (49-44) on the board. In the third, former Tribe great Jim Thome doubled and went on to score on a fielder's choice grounder off the bat of Matt Wieters. From there, the floodgates flew open.
Mark Reynolds delivered a bases-loaded, two-run double to center field off of Lowe and Ryan Flaherty kept the offense flowing with a three-run home run to right. The Orioles added two runs in the fourth to plow ahead, 9-1.
Thome opened the fourth by crushing a 3-2 offering from Lowe into the right-field seats for his first home run as a member of the Orioles, who acquired him from the Phillies last month. The blast marked the 610th of Thome's storied career, moving him past Sammy Sosa for seventh place on baseball's all-time list.
"There's nothing Jimmy [does] that I don't say, 'man, you're pretty lucky to watch this,'" Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm honored to have him pass my way."
Lowe also made history, but in a more dubious sense, becoming only the 20th pitcher since 1918 to allow only extra-base hits with at least seven hits surrendered in an outing. Along the way, he threw just 37 of his 82 pitches for strikes.
"Derek wasn't able to command his sinker," Acta said. "He couldn't even throw 50 percent of his pitches for strikes, so he was behind in the count most of the time, and then he had to end up pretty much grooving that sinker over the middle of the plate."
Cleveland is hoping Lowe can find the kind of control he had early on this season.
"We're going to need him," said Damon, "if we're going to be competitive and fight to get to the playoffs."