The same Indians right-hander that was the team's most consistent starter for the first two months of the season has become Cleveland's most inconsistent pitcher in June. Lowe has allowed seven or more runs in three of his last five starts, including seven earned runs in five innings against the Reds on Tuesday.
Lowe will try to right the ship when he takes the mound for the Indians in the series finale against the Astros Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
"I'm looking forward to June getting over with," Lowe said after his last start against Cincinnati. "I think it's any time your sinker gets flat, you're going to get hit. Let's be honest, this isn't 10 years ago where I could overpower guys. You're more in the hitting zone, so when you don't have your stuff, you're going to get hit. That's where I am."
Recent history, though, suggests Lowe's struggles will continue.
Much has been made about Lowe's 9-17 record for the Braves last season, but Lowe actually pitched well early in the year, like he did this season. He had six quality starts in his first eight outings of the season, and had a 3-3 record until May 22. Two of those three early-season losses came due to a lack of run support.
But Lowe began to struggle with a sinker that wouldn't sink as the season went on. He was 6-12 with a 6.05 ERA after June 13 last season.
The Astros will counter with left-hander J.A. Happ, who rebounded from consecutive bad outings when he pitched against the Royals last Monday. Happ allowed only two runs on four hits in six innings, and earned the win. It was Happ's first victory since May 22 against the Cubs. Happ is 5-7 with a 5.15 ERA on the year.
"He started throwing more strikes and making pitches a little better," said Houston manager Brad Mills.
The Astros gave Happ solid run support in his last start when they put nine up on the board. Since then, though, they have scored one or fewer runs three times in four games (two shutouts). Houston finally got its offense going Saturday in its 8-1 win against the Indians.
Indians: Damon heating up at plate
Indians left fielder Johnny Damon hasn't been the offensive answer everyone hoped he'd be when the team signed him in April. Manager Manny Acta has grown used to answering questions about Damon's sub-par batting average, and Damon regularly gets asked about how missing Spring Training has impacted his season to this point.
Damon's response is almost always the same.
"Hopefully I get hot sometime soon," he says.
The veteran Damon has started to heat up, just as the Indians seem to have found their stride. After his average dipped to .175 following an 0-for-3 performance against the Pirates on June 16, Damon has hit in four of the last five games. He's 6-for-15 with two doubles, a home run, three RBIs, and two walks during the current stretch, and has improved his average to .202, the best it has been since May 6 (.235).
"It's encouraging to see it," Acta said. "He got off to a very slow start, and I know that a lot of people are just going to keep looking at the batting average and stuff, but I can point out right now, at least five games over the last 10 days where Johnny has something to do with us winning the ball game. ... His hits, they have been huge for us. I hope he continues to do it. He's doing it at the right time right now."
All three of Damon's home runs, and 11 of his 13 RBIs, have come since May 27. He's hitting .263 in 20 games since then.
"I've just had to go through that battle just like a lot of guys have to every year," Damon said recently. "I'm going up there and swinging the bat, and I think it's OK."
Shin-Soo Choo's double in the ninth inning Saturday against the Astros extended his hitting streak to six games. Choo has at least one extra-base hit in all six games.
Astros: Lineup changes helps Schafer
In an effort to kick-start a struggling offense, Mills went with a different lineup for Saturday's game. He moved first baseman Carlos Lee up from fourth to third in the batting order and moved center fielder Jordan Schafer down to eighth.
"We're just trying to get guys that might be able to do something a little higher up to get more at-bats," Mills said before Saturday's game.
The move seemed to help Schafer, as he broke out of an 0-for-13 stretch with a solo home run in the fifth inning. Lee also produced in his first game hitting in the three-hole since May 7, 2010, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the game.
Outfielder Justin Maxwell was scratched from Saturday's lineup because of bone spurs in his left ankle. Maxwell is hitting .233 with eight home runs and 24 RBIs this season.
Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera hit a home run in the fourth inning Saturday, his fourth homer in the last seven games. Cabrera has nine home runs on the season.
Lowe is 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 career starts against the Astros.
Astros third baseman Chris Johnson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs on Saturday, giving him three multi-hit games in the last four games.