Lowry '08: Change Returns?

Optimism Week continues. Today's installment will be tough, as there is an actual game to get in the way of the optimism. It's an important game, too. If the Giants win this, they're tied for first place. Tied! I spend my winter whining, and yet I can wake up tomorrow to a first-place team. This is a crazy game.

The starter for this must-win game is Noah Lowry, who was traded this offseason for a young hi...wait a sec. He's still here? How in the hell did that happen? Apparently, the Giants' only real trading chip wasn't quite as marketable as a lot of us thought. Brian Sabean says there wasn't much interest. I'm inclined to believe that, considering that Lowry was shut down at the end of last season with an injury. I'm also inclined to believe that "not much interest" translates into "all they offered us were yucky unproven players like Billy Butler!", or some variation thereof. But this is Optimism Week. Shame on you for thinking that.

Lowry's here for the season, so it's time to reminisce about just how danged exciting Lowry used to be. Before Sir Cain and St. Lincecum, Lowry was the young pitcher du jour. His minor league career was decent enough, but he got goofy with the changeup once he made it to the majors. I'll always remember this game, in which he allowed five baserunners in nine innings. Wily Mo Pena looked like someone slipped him Felix Rodriguez's scouting report before the game, as he had about six I-can't-believe-that's-not-a-98-mph-fastball hacks that completely screwed him into the ground. Good times.

It isn't as if Lowry was a late-season flash in the pan for 2004, though. He pitched 200 innings the next season with an above-average ERA and strikeout rate -- not too shabby for a 24-year-old pitcher in his first full major league season. When the 2006 season started, it wasn't unreasonable to think he would be a cornerstone of the franchise for the next few years. Then he tweaked the oblique, and his strikeout rate has never been the same. Maybe the scouting reports caught up with him, but it makes more sense to blame the injuries. After the oblique came tenderness. After the tenderness came bone chips. His control disappeared along the way.

So here's to a comeback season from Lowry. With a healthy arm, maybe the control comes back. With better location, maybe hitters are more likely to chase breaking balls and changeups. With better location, maybe his sub-mediocre fastball isn't something hitters can just sit on. Because if Lowry can regain even 75% of that 2005 magic, he'll be one of the most valuable properties the Giants control. Forget all of this pie-in-the-cove talk about how Fred Lewis might be a viable starter if things break just right, or how Kevin Frandsen might be a league-average second baseman; if Noah Lowry has a season just like the season he had three seasons ago, he'll be just as important to the rebuilding process as Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Not because he'll pitch as well, but because of the options the Giants would have with an above-average pitcher at a below-market rate.

There are limits to the optimism. When pitchers stop striking hitters out, it isn't as if they just need to hit the gym for an extra half-hour every week to get back what they lost. There might not be a way to get back what is lost. Three seasons ago might as well be four decades when talking about pitching arms.

It isn't a likely scenario, but it isn't an impossible scenario either. That's kind of the point of Optimism Week. Not likely, but not impossible. I'll take it.

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