Lowe lets it be known he wants to close
Reliever talks about desire for job during FanFest appearance
SEATTLE -- Mark Lowe was one of 10 Mariners pitchers last season with at least one save.He pitched a scoreless ninth inning against the Angels on April 11 at Safeco Field to protect a three-run lead. That would be the last time the right-hander walked off the mound to receive high-fives from his teammates following a game-ending relief appearance. But the closer job is wide open heading into Spring Training next month and Lowe has every intention of taking over where former closer J.J. Putz left off. Those are big shoes to fill, but Lowe has been thinking about occupying the pressure-filled job since late October. He returned to Arizona after the season, watched the World Series on television and marveled at the way Phillies closer Brad Lidge fell to his knees in exhilaration after ending the Fall Classic with a strikeout. Lowe put himself in Lidge's body that night. "That is the ultimate experience for a relief pitcher," said Lowe. "It's an unbelievable feeling to walk off the mound after getting the final out." It isn't a feeling that Lowe has experienced a lot in his career. But he's familiar with it, having registered 13 saves during his first three Minor League seasons. And so, with Putz being traded to the Mets last December, the Mariners do not have a sure-fire, no-doubt-about-it closer waiting in the wings. Plan A is to keep right-hander Brandon Morrow, who finished second on the team in saves last season with 10, in the starting rotation. That being the case, it appears Lowe and perhaps five others will be battling it out for the high-pressure, all-important closer role. Veteran right-hander Miguel Batista has 38 saves during his career, 31 of them with Toronto in 2001. Right-hander Tyler Walker, signed recently as a free agent, has closing experience, right-hander David Aardsma has quality stuff, and returning right-hander Roy Corcoran has the kind of mental makeup a good closer needs -- no fear and the ability to forget about a bad outing. Other candidates may emerge from the pack during the Cactus League season, but it's probably a five-horse race going in.
"I'm one that prefers definitive roles," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "I would prefer to have a guy step forward and be the closer. I'd like for guys to understand their roles. We have a lot of arms, a lot of bodies there. We have some guys that have done it."The thing about closers is, there are a few guys in baseball who are fantastic, and we'd all love to have them. But the other thing is, they emerge. Look at Trevor Hoffman, who started as a shortstop and became one of the great closers of our time. And Dennis Eckersley was a starter who became a great closer." Lowe sounded confident, but not cocky, when discussing his pursuit of the closer job during the two-day FanFest at Safeco Field. "There's something about the adrenaline rush you get when you come in with the game on the line," Lowe said. "It is hard to describe, but in my book, it's the best job in the game. I think any reliever would fall in love doing it." Lowe has a mid-90s fastball, complemented with an improving slider and changeup. Confidence, carried over from in the final month of last season, compliments the repertoire to the point where Lowe believes he can become the reliever that manager Don Wakamatsu turns to with a lead in the final inning. Lowe had a 3.12 ERA in September, surrendering three earned runs in 8 2/3 innings spread over seven appearances. But his nine strikeouts and three walks stand out. Lowe credits a suggestion he received from former pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre as a key reason for his September success. "We got rid of the windup in August," Lowe said. "It took me awhile to get used to it, but I really felt good pitching out of the stretch in September." Stottlemyre, contacted at his Sammamish home, said he thought Lowe would have better success with his pitch-to-pitch consistency if he worked out of the stretch only. "His arm was great, but he didn't have a consistent release point," Stottlemyre said. "He would throw one pitch really well, and thrown the next one not well at all. [Pitching out of the stretch] enabled him to get his entire body over the rubber, where as before, his lower half would be out in front." The biggest difference was Lowe's control. The 3-to-1 strikeout-walk ratio in September was by far his best of the season. Prior to that, he struck out 44 batters and walked 31. Throwing quality strikes consistently is just one of the necessities of being a top-notch closer. But there are other factors. "I think first and foremost he has to be a guy who can pitch two, three or four days in a row," he said. "He also needs a short memory, being able to forget about a rough game quickly." Those are some of things he learned from watching and talking to Putz. "He showed me the ropes when I got called up and I always did my running with him," he added. "I watched him a lot -- how he got ready. It would have been stupid of me to sit there and not watch someone like that, one of the best in the game at what he does. I watched him hard-core for three years." Now, he wants to be the Mariners' next J.J.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.