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Lowe high on offdays

He takes one for team, takes seat

Shaping the rotation in April after rainouts the past two days probably won't mean a hill of beans in September, but tonight, weather permitting, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has decided to pitch Pedro Martinez against the Orioles in what has turned into a one-game series.

His preference to keep Martinez working on four days' rest means Francona had to decide which of his starters would make the sacrifice of being idle. The choice was Derek Lowe, last night's scheduled starter who will not pitch until Sunday against the Yankees but will face the Bronx Bombers twice in a week.

Altering the rotation to keep Martinez on four days' rest is a departure from the past, when the Sox rarely passed up an opportunity to give their ace an extra day off. Francona has not explained why he feels the need to keep Martinez on four days' rest, but as the rotation is now set up, Tim Wakefield, Curt Schilling, Lowe, and Bronson Arroyo will face the Yankees at Fenway this weekend.

Looking ahead to next weekend in New York, Lowe, Arroyo, and Martinez are scheduled to go in that series.

Francona broke the news to Lowe, who took it in stride.

"There's nothing you can do," shrugged Lowe, who will be working on a rare 10 days' rest. "It's April. You could see this coming two days ago with the forecast. This isn't Florida. When they say rain here they mean rain all day long. You wish you could get these rainouts later in the year because you don't really need them this early, especially coming after an offday. I wish we played football because we could play in this stuff, but we play baseball."

A few factors appear to be at work here. Francona wanted to keep Martinez in a normal flow as to also accommodate Schilling as much as possible. He also wanted to move Wakefield between Martinez and Schilling, though if the three aren't pitching in the same series how effective is that? As it is, Schilling will have an extra day of rest and he'll face the Yankees tomorrow night. "What it comes down to when you get stacked up like we did, someone pays the price," Francona said. "You'd rather have one guy [out of place] than keep moving everybody back. I spoke to Derek, he understands. He feels comfortable with it. We're all in agreement this is the best way for our ball club to go forward."

Francona said he spoke to Martinez about his plans and that Martinez was OK with being pushed back if necessary. Certainly there had been some buzz about Martinez facing the Yankees after the Game 7 controversy at Yankee Stadium in last year's American League Championship Series. Francona has said all along he will not let his planning be affected by those wanting Martinez to face the Yankees as often as possible.

In an effort to not let the rust build up, Lowe played catch yesterday and plans to throw off a mound today. The sinkerballer said he won't overdo it in his downtime, treating today's side session as he normally would.

"You're definitely gonna feel strong," said Lowe, who earned a win over Baltimore at Camden Yards April 7. "It's going to be my 11th day. I can't remember the last time I had 10 days off between starts. If anything, you're gonna feel very strong. You have to use that as a positive."

Lowe, the second-winningest pitcher in baseball the past two years with 38 victories, has often refuted the thought that sinkerballers perform better when they're a bit tired.

"There's no sense looking at it as a negative," he said. "Just look at it as a positive. You're going to have back-to-back games against New York, so that's a positive in and of itself. It's always exciting to face the Yankees. Historically, they're the best team in baseball. Hopefully, we'll be up, 2-0, [in the series] and I can give us a 3-0 lead against them.

"I feel like I'm stealing money. I haven't done anything. I come to the park, watch the rain, cheer for the team, go home. It's making me feel bad." What would really make Lowe feel bad is if there were another rainout and he were pushed back to the 11 a.m. Patriots Day game on Monday.

"If it doesn't rain and I don't get pushed back to the dreaded Marathon Monday . . . now that would be icing on the cake," he said with a laugh. "One guy is going to take the hit to benefit the other four guys. It could have been anybody. It just happened to be my turn in the rotation. You take the hit, so to speak. I know they really wanted Pedro to pitch on the fifth day."

Francona is trying to present to the team and the fans that beating the Orioles is just as important as beating the Yankees in the regular season. He said the weather is challenging in all areas, but he feels all of his pitchers have been able to do their side throwing. Certainly the time off has benefited some of the members of the bullpen, who had already been taxed during the first week. Scott Williamson, Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Keith Foulke all must feel reenergized.

Lowe, the man who saved the Division Series against Oakland with a relief appearance for the ages, did rule out the possibility he might be in line for bullpen duty during his time between starts.

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