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Lowe has a sinking feeling it will turn around

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- One way to look at Derek Lowe's predicament is that things could be worse. Only three American Leaguers with at least four starts have walked more batters than they have struck out: Lowe (20 walks, 17 strikeouts), Tampa Bay's Jeremi Gonzalez (17 walks, 15 strikeouts), and Chicago's Dan Wright (11 walks, six strikeouts).

Gonzalez is 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA as a starter. Wright is 0-4 with an 8.15 ERA. Lowe is 3-3 with a 4.74 ERA.

"It's not a situation where I'm in dire need of a win," Lowe said as he prepared to face the Devil Rays tonight in the finale of a seven-game trip through Toronto and Tampa Bay. "If I was 0-6, we'd be having a different conversation. There's a lot of starts to go."

Still, Lowe knows he needs to improve. He has worked more than six innings only once in his first seven starts. He has failed to finish the fifth inning in each of his last three outings.

And opponents have posted a .401 on-base percentage against him, the highest among active Sox pitchers.

"Obviously, I have higher standards than what I'm doing," he said. "It's not like I'm proud of the way games have gone, but it's in the past. You try to learn from what you've done and look back as little as possible."

Lowe has thrived much of his career with a sinkerball that darts just out of the strike zone. He suspects opponents have developed scouting reports advising batters to force him to throw strikes. And though he has tried to adjust by throwing the sinker for strikes, the results have been mixed.

"I don't even know," Lowe said when asked for an explanation. "It's just one of those things where you keep pitching because you know at some point it will come."

Lowe had some difficulty explaining his recent woes because he was distracted by Pedro Martinez engaging in some pregame hijinks. Martinez was running naked in circles within the clubhouse, saying he was doing "rally laps."

"I have a hard time talking with this guy running around butt naked," Lowe said.

Ramirez sits and hits

Though the Sox would rather have him playing left field, Manny Ramirez started his fourth straight game at designated hitter as he recovers from a sore groin. He tweaked the groin beating out an infield single Friday in Toronto and changing directions to reach second on a throwing error.

Ramirez said it would be best to avoid the artificial turf at Tropicana Field. "It will be better when I go back home [tomorrow] because it's regular grass," Ramirez said. "It will be fine."

He started out fine, launching a 400-foot out to the warning track in center field in the first inning, then clearing the wall in center for a two-run homer in the third as he reached safely for the 17th straight game.

The homer was Ramirez's ninth of the season and 356th of his career, moving him past Greg Vaughn for sole possession of 63d place on the all-time list. Yogi Berra ranks 62d with 358. The homer also was the 120th of Ramirez's Sox career, moving him past Joe Cronin for 20th place on the team's all-time list.

The Sox continued rotating players through left field, with Brian Daubach taking a turn. David McCarty and Kevin Millar also started there in Ramirez's recent absence.

As for Millar, he received a buzz cut after Tuesday's game from Gabe Kapler, who had shaved his own head last week in Cleveland trying to change his luck at the plate. Millar is in a 2-for-22 slide and has not homered since April 23. The only Sox player who has gone longer without a homer is Cesar Crespo (Sept. 24, 2001).

"Something needs to be changed, and sometimes these quirky things work, like when we were down, 0-2, against Oakland [last year in the Division Series]," Millar said. "The hair had to pay."

Back woes for Kim

Count the Rockies among the teams that have expressed an interest in Boston's struggling starter Byung Hyun Kim. The righthander, who was demoted last week to Triple A Pawtucket, encountered another setback when he reported tightness in his lower back after he threw two innings Tuesday in Durham. Kim is expected to be examined by team medical director Bill Morgan after the PawSox return home tomorrow . . . Trot Nixon, who appears likely to return from the disabled list before Nomar Garciaparra, went 3 for 4 with a double serving as a DH in an extended spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla. . . . Manager Terry Francona said third baseman Bill Mueller appears to have recovered from the inflammation in his right knee, which raises the question of whether the Sox will keep Kevin Youkilis playing part time with the Sox or return him to Pawtucket. General manager Theo Epstein said he is comfortable with Youkilis sticking with the Sox at least for "a short period of time." . . . What struck Bronson Arroyo about Randy Johnson pitching the first perfect game in professional baseball since Arroyo's perfecto last August for Pawtucket was Johnson's reaction after the final out. "I was surprised because he looked like he had just thrown a complete-game shutout," Arroyo said. "It didn't seem like it was a big deal to him." When Arroyo made the final putout in his perfect game, his teammates mobbed him. "By the time I caught the ball, it seemed like the whole team was on me," he said. "I came up from the pile with a busted lip, bleeding all over the place, and somebody had bent my finger back. I felt like I got beat up." . . . With their 7-3 victory Tuesday over the Rays, the Sox improved this season to 6-7 in series openers. They are 5-7 in series finales. But they are 13-2 in the games between . . . Outfielder Henri Stanley, acquired last week from the Padres, joined Pawtucket and was placed on the 40-man roster. To make room, the Sox shifted righthander Jason Shiell from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL. Shiell is due to undergo exploratory elbow surgery this week. . . The Sox improved to 5-0 against Tampa Bay this season and have outscored the Rays, 28-7 . . . Curt Schilling improved to 2-0 with an 0.63 ERA against Tampa Bay. The game was delayed six minutes before the bottom of the third inning after Schilling asked the grounds crew to fill part of a hole by the pitching rubber. The hole was aggravating Schilling's sore right ankle. "It bothers me if gets too deep," he said. "But had I known it was going to take that long, I would have just told them to forget it." . . . Senior pitching adviser Tony Cloninger was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame last night. 

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