After scary injury, Lowery is back and ready to finish strong
AKRON -- Jake Lowery took a a 2-2 fastball to the face the night of April 18, and he’s still feeling the effects.
The pitch fractured three of Lowery’s facial bones and sidelined him for six weeks. It didn’t, however, shatter his season.
Lowery, 23, was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. The lefty-hitting catcher was hitting .226 through 11 games with the Akron RubberDucks in April before the injury. Last season, he hit a collective .264 with seven home runs between the high-A Carolina Mudcats and double-A RubberDucks.
The pitch didn’t even catch a piece of Lowery’s helmet, he said. Instead, it caught the right side of Lowery’s face and left him dazed.
“I felt like my eye was out of my head,” he recalled. “It just swelled up so quick and just stunned me.”
After the injury, Lowery remained in Akron for a week before he returned to Arizona on rehab assignment. Though all baseball injuries can be mentally crippling, Lowery’s may have been exceptionally cerebral, considering his required little physical resurrection.
“There wasn’t really anything to rehab,” he said. “It was more like trying to get back into baseball.”
During the rehab process, Lowery said his thoughts primarily consisted of returning to the diamond as soon as possible. He said he also spoke with Columbus Clippers catcher Chris Wallace, who was hit in the face with a pitch in college. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Lowery said he came to terms with the incident and used it as a motivator.
“If you play the game this long, something like that’s probably going to happen,” he explained. “With baseballs being thrown around all the time, people don’t really have sympathy when you get hit in the face or you break your nose or something like that. It’s part of the game.”
Even after his bones healed, Lowery admitted the injury lingered mentally when he first returned to the batter’s box.
“It was kind of in the back of my mind, especially being out in Arizona, there’s some wild guys out there,” he said.
Six weeks later, Lowery returned to Akron. He said getting some at-bats rejuvenated his spirits after he had initial reservations of jumping back into double-A ball, but he learned to slow his own pace and concentrate his focus.
“I just kind of have to keep working through some things,” he said. “I was trying to do way too much. I’m not ready for that yet. I need to know my role and what I’m doing right now.”
As he's attempted to return to the swing of things in Akron, Lowery said he’s also working on getting swings in with the bat. He said he’s caught some tough breaks on hard-hit balls aimed right at defenders, but he knows the hits will come. Through 23 games since his return, Lowery has hit .234 with two home runs, seven RBI and an .827 OPS.
“I kind of told myself I’m playing June through the end of August, so it’s kind of like three months and that’s my season. I just need to work on some things and not worry about the numbers right now. Worry about one day at a time, one pitch at a time. The numbers will come and things will turn around," he said.
Lowery’s also adjusting to a more versatile defensive role. Drafted as a catcher, he remains primarily behind the dish, though he’s also seen playing time at first base to get more at-bats. Lowery said the Indians organization sees him first and foremost as a catcher, but he knows versatility can help him down the road.
“Tito [Terry Francona] likes that stuff, guys that can play different positions,” Lowery noted. “It’s only going to be more beneficial for you and you can keep that in your back pocket for whenever you need it.”
The first half of the double-A season is coming to a close, though the season is relatively fresh for Lowery. His unnerving injury has put a dent in his season, but Lowery’s made it a point to avoid discouragement.
“Getting hit in the face sucks,” he said bluntly, noting that he still experiences lingering effects of the injury, such as numbness in his teeth. But he also acknowledged that his injury has been overcome by others, as it’s simply part of the game.
“You just get over it and get better,” he said.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.