After strong outing, lefty Zac Lowther looks for two in a row

For Orioles left-hander Zac Lowther, the handful of games left in the 2021 season and the starts he may get are very meaningful. After a year where he has gone 0-5 with a 6.53 ERA at Triple-A Norfolk and also missed time while rehabbing a shoulder strain, these outings, like his start today, are big.

He wants to show he is healthy and also that the Orioles still can consider him as a candidate for their 2022 rotation. Lowther provided a nice glimpse of what he can do Monday versus Kansas City. Over six innings and 92 pitches, he allowed three hits and one run.

He told me this week that it would mean a lot to him to finish well this season.

“Everything,” he said. “You always want to end the year strong and healthy. And that’s really my main focus. Want to continue to grow with the stuff I did well. Stay healthy, execute pitches and have a good rest of the year.”

The Kansas City game was much better than Lowther’s earlier handful of big league games. Of course, that was just a small sample of 8 1/3 innings, but Lowther felt getting his feet wet was big for him when he returned to the team this time.

Lowther-Throwing-White-Sidebar.jpg“The experience here earlier was invaluable,” he said. “It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was a lot to grow from. Not many guys are able to come up and just figure it out right away. Being able to have that experience, good or bad, being able to take it and grow from it, you are always trying to find something to work on in this game.”

Lowther was one of the O’s most decorated minor league pitchers through the 2020 season.

This was a pitcher that spent the entire 2019 season at Double-A Bowie, going 13-7 in 26 starts with a 2.55 ERA. In 148 innings, he walked 63 with 154 strikeouts and held opponents to a .197 batting average. He earned midseason and postseason Eastern League All-Star honors and was named a Baseball America Double-A All-Star.

Lowther split the 2018 season between low Single-A Delmarva and high Single-A Frederick, going a combined 8-4 in 23 games with a 2.18 ERA. In 123 innings, he walked 35 with 151 strikeouts. After that year, he was named the Orioles’ Jim Palmer Minor League Co-Pitcher of the Year with lefty Keegan Akin.

Then he dealt with that shoulder issue this season and had to make rehab starts in the lower minors on the way back, including in the Rookie-level Florida Complex League.

“It’s frustrating,” he said of dealing with the injury. “Because you know what you have in the tank, and when you are not able to deliver that on a consistent basis, it’s very frustrating. And the frustration will lead to physical changes that are not necessary. It will lead to mental frustration even moreso. When you get those, it’s a constant battle with yourself and not even focusing on the batter in front of you or hitting the catcher’s glove. Those kind of things grow and grow appearance to appearance, so being able to flush those, being able to feel good and not fight with yourself and only focus on what is in front of you is one of the biggest things I learned.”

Did posting stats unlike anything we had previously seen from him this year test his confidence? Or was the injury the reason for that and he had to come to realize that?

“There is a little bit of both, I think,” said Lowther. “Confidence for sure. All throughout the minors, you are like, ‘I want to get to the big leagues, my stuff is good enough.’ And when you get here and your stuff gets hit around a little bit or you don’t feel good, there goes the confidence and there goes everything that you’ve built up to this point. So being able to reset with that (on a rehab assignment) was big for me. Because knowing what to expect is a big thing for me. Having that routine. Everything that goes into pitching against the best in the game. It’s a lot mentally but being able to navigate that with experience helps.”

So Lowther is back on the mound today, now facing a high-scoring Toronto team that posted two comeback wins Saturday at Camden Yards. In the doubleheader, the Blue Jays scored 22 runs on 24 hits with eight home runs.

On the farm: The Double-A Bowie Baysox had a nice comeback win of their own last night. They scored four runs in the top of the ninth to win 5-4 at Harrisburg. Shortstop Jordan Westburg’s three-run triple with two outs in the ninth put Bowie ahead in the game.

After Wednesday’s games, Westburg was hitting just .138 for Bowie. But over his past three games, Westburg is 6-for-14 with three doubles, a triple and five RBIs.

Bowie (67-45) has won six in a row and is one game behind Somerset for a playoff spot with eight games left.

Low Single-A Delmarva beat Fredericksburg, as top draft pick Colton Cowser went 4-for-5 with four RBIs and Coby Mayo was 2-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs. Cowser is now batting .377 with an OPS of .986 and Mayo is batting .321/.982.

Later today, I’ll appear on “O’s Xtra” on MASN at 12:30 p.m. to discuss some minor league topics, including Grayson Rodriguez’s upcoming schedule and the strong season of young Dominican-born outfielder Mishael Deson.

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