NEW YORK -- Derek Lowe knew his time in Cleveland was nearing its end as struggles persisted over his past 10 starts. The sinkerballer knew there were mechanical changes he needed to make, but the only way the newest Yankees reliever could describe the feeling as his pitches left his right hand was that they were "coming out like mashed potatoes."
"It had gravy on it this time," Lowe said Monday after his Bombers debut.
Lowe pitched four scoreless innings against the Rangers in an 8-2 win, 11 days after the Indians designated him for assignment and three days after they released him. The right-hander allowed two hits and struck out four, earning his first regular-season save since 2001, when he closed 24 games for the Red Sox, though this one was admittedly "cheap," the result of pitching the game's final four frames.
"I don't know how they even categorize that as a save, but they do," said Lowe, who threw 44 pitches, 33 for strikes. "But it couldn't have gone any better. I'm not going to lie to you and say I'm not going to sleep with a smile tonight. It's a pretty fun way to start your career here."
The Yankees envision Lowe in the role he debuted in -- a long reliever for the middle innings. But the last time Lowe moved to the bullpen after prolonged struggles in the rotation, he found himself once again starting for the Red Sox in the 2004 American League Championship Series against New York, and believing he can still start, he would welcome a similar move.
But Lowe was 31 years old then, only two years removed from an All-Star appearance as a starter, and four years removed from a 42-save season.
Now he is 39 with a 5.34 ERA.
He was designated for assignment for the first time in his 16-year career -- the past 11 as a starter -- but took the 10-day window without a team as an opportunity to focus on himself. He immediately took to making mechanical changes both he and former Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky knew were needed in Cleveland, but did not have the time for during side sessions as struggles prompted them to skip bullpen sessions altogether. But he also returned to Fort Myers, Fla., where he watched film from his Dodgers years with Orioles rehab pitching coordinator and personal pitching coach Chris Correnti, and the career "tinkerer" did just that, trying to regain deception to account for his waning velocity.
"You go on a 10-day kind of sit-around-and-do-nothing stage, but I needed it," said Lowe, who has made 279 relief appearances and 377 starts. "I was not going to come back and pitch if I couldn't get myself figured out, but what makes it easier is that I've always been a tinkerer. So it didn't take a long time, just a good two or three days of hard work, looking at video and realizing what you have to do."
The results were immediately evident.
"That was the same guy that I caught in L.A.," Russell Martin said.
"He saved our bullpen there," said manager Joe Girardi. "A tremendous job on his part."
Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia and San Francisco all contacted Lowe's agent, Scott Boras, about the right-hander after the Indians released him.
"Then this came," Lowe said, "and we weren't going to pass on it."
Boras struck a deal with the Yankees in "literally about 10 minutes," according to Lowe, who spoke to pitching coach Larry Rothschild on Sunday before his arrival.
He arrived feeling refreshed, promising himself during his brief time away that he would not join a team unless he fixed whatever caused him to be a "way-overpaid batting practice pitcher" in Cleveland, and happy to be back in a pennant race.
"It doesn't matter how you feel throwing bullpens in Fort Myers. You want to get out here and see what you were working on put to work," Lowe said. "I had to get back to hiding the ball a little bit better, and so far, so good."
Back better, Chavez returns to lineup
NEW YORK -- Eric Chavez returned to the Yankees' lineup Monday after sitting out their weekend series in Toronto, and manager Joe Girardi does not expect any lingering back soreness to prompt precautions.
"We expect him to be fine," Girardi said.
Chavez played all four games in Detroit, going 9-for-16 with two homers and seven RBIs, and played six out of seven games before stiffness popped up in Toronto. Girardi planned on sitting Chavez for the finale in Detroit, but the third baseman entered Girardi's office and asked to be in the lineup as designated hitter.
Girardi said he would not hesitate to play Chavez on consecutive days again.
"If I need to, I'm going to," Girardi said. "I'm going to check with him every day how he's doing. We have an open communication."
Mo throws, but highly unlikely he returns this year
NEW YORK -- Mariano Rivera threw in the Yankee Stadium outfield Monday with pitching coach Larry Rothschild looking on, but that does not mean the Yankees are preparing for a postseason return from their closer.
"I don't see it happening," said manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi recently said he was 99.9 percent sure Rivera would not rejoin the Yankees until next Spring Training and stood by that after Rivera threw. He did not watch Rivera's throws from flat ground, but Rothschild told Girardi that Rivera "looked pretty good."
"When you're a baseball player and you can't do the things you used to do, as soon as you can do it, you try it," Girardi said. "That's probably what Mo did."
Ichiro Suzuki hit ninth Monday for the first time, as Girardi attempted to break up the left-handers that took up four of the final five spots in his lineup.
On this date in 1932, Red Ruffing threw a shutout and hit a 10th-inning home run to give the Yankees a 1-0 win against Washington. No Major Leaguer has since thrown a shutout and homered in a 1-0 game.
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.