PEORIA, Ariz. – The only thing Mark Lowe knew about diabetes, he learned on the bullpen bench from fellow Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Brandon Morrow.
“All I knew was what I learned from watching him prick himself in the bullpen every fifth inning, watching him pump insulin into himself,” Lowe said.
Of course, being one of those nutty relief pitchers, Lowe would needle Morrow about it.
Then Lowe started to feel different himself about a year ago.
He would suddenly lose energy.
Occasionally, he literally couldn’t see straight.
He lost weight, lots of it.
“I would come in some days and be dragging,” Lowe said. “Sometimes in the middle of the day I would hit a wall. Some days, my vision was blurry.”
A test at spring training last year showed that Lowe had a blood sugar imbalance, and he was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes.
Immediately, Lowe and Morrow became linked by much more than late-inning stress on the mound. And, of course, they found a way to have fun with a serious condition.
“He’d just gotten his glucometer, and we were messing around pricking ourselves and sharing numbers,” Morrow remembers.
They made wagers over who could come closest to guessing their blood sugar readings.
“The loser had to eat a bag of cookies,” Lowe joked.
Deep down, nothing is amusing about what either pitcher is going through.
Lowe lost 15 pounds this past offseason, and last week got off the pills and began injecting himself with insulin. He said he has gained back about 5 pounds during spring training.
Morrow, who learned he was diabetic while in college, controls his blood sugar with an insulin pump, which is attached to the side of his abdomen.
“Fortunately, when I was diagnosed I had somebody right next to me every day to ask questions to,” Lowe said.
Dr. Mitch Storey, the Mariners’ longtime team physician, said this is the first time the club has had two diabetic players.
“It’s fortunate for Mark that he’s got a guy like Brandon to lean on to help him,” Storey said. “Mark is new at this and he’s not as comfortable as Brandon is. The diabetes is affected by their activity level, so they have to be a lot stricter on their blood sugar monitoring. If it drops, it can affect their performance.”
Being a reliever, Lowe says he will test himself about the fifth inning of every game. Morrow, who finished last season as a starter and may be in the rotation this year, said he tests himself several times before and during a game, using the insulin pump to adjust his blood sugar level.
“I’ll check before I go out to warm up,” Morrow said. “Then I’ll check after I come back in from warming up. If it’s OK, that’ll be the last time I’ll check before the game. I’ll check again after the first inning, and then on depending how I feel.”
Lowe has always treated his diabetes seriously, but he didn’t realize the consequences of it until a trainer told him that Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller had both his legs amputated below the knees because of Type 2 diabetes. Miller died early this year.
“When he told me that, I told him right there, ‘Set me up an appointment. I’ve got to get this under control,’ ” Lowe said. “It’s scary. I never realized how serious it was.”
This offseason, Lowe found it difficult to get through the day after a hard workout.
“When I got home I would hit a wall. I had nothing left,” he said. “I was really controlling my diet this offseason, which could have made me lose weight, too. It was tough to have energy because there were no carbs going in, no sugars.”
There’s never been a time, Lowe said, when he has felt sorry for himself.
“It was not fun knowing it’s something you’ll have to do the rest of your life, poking yourself with a needle forever,” he said. “But you get over it and know it could be way, way worse. In the long run, it’s something that will help you – staying in shape, eating right. You have to look at it in the big picture, and I think it’s going to be a very positive thing.”
That’s the mind-set both Lowe and Morrow hope all diabetics take in treating their conditions.
“Take it serious. It’s a big deal and it’s your livelihood,” Lowe said. “As you get older, a lot of things can change and you’ve got to take care of it for the long run.”
“But, don’ t let it hold you back,” Morrow said. “It’s a serious condition, but if you take care of yourself and monitor it, you can be as healthy as anybody else.”
Easy does it for Silva
Carlos Silva made a few tweaks to his pitching mechanics, but also his mental state, and it worked in his final exhibition start Thursday. He held the San Diego Padres to six hits and two runs in five innings of the Mariners’ 18-3 victory.
It was a vast change from Silva’s previous outing, when he gave up 11 hits and eight earned runs in 31/3 innings against the Los Angeles Angles. He said after that one that he tried too hard.
“I made sure I wasn’t jumping and trying to overthrow,” he said. “Sometimes when you are in the game, I think the harder I throw the tougher I’m going to look. That’s not the fact. Today I was nice and easy and tried to hit my spot and the sinker was working good.”
The Mariners also have adjusted Silva’s mechanics to have him stand taller over the rubber in order to create a better downward plane on his pitches, especially the sinker that has been his most effective pitch in his career.
The sinker bailed Silva out twice when he got the Padres to hit into inning-ending double plays.
“I’m aggressive enough,” he said. “If I’m going to put more aggression in myself, that’s not going to be good. I’m very happy the way I pitched today.”
Silva will pitch the third game of the season Wednesday at Minnesota.
Final roster decisions
With little fanfare or surprise, Wakamatsu revealed the order of his starting rotation – Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, Silva, Jarrod Washburn and Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Other decisions on the makeup of the team won’t be announced until Saturday when the Mariners play their final exhibition in Las Vegas.
Wakamatsu said the club has a firm idea how the final roster spots will take shape, but “there are still some decisions to make that are sensitive to the players on the team right now.”
Backup catcher and the makeup of the bullpen are the only unknowns. Rob Johnson is considered the front-runner to win the backup catching job over Jamie Burke.
Two other non-roster pitchers are expected to make the team in the bullpen, right-handers Shawn Kelley and Chris Jakubauskas. Even though Wakamatsu met with them Thursday morning, neither said they knew whether they were or weren’t going to make the team.
“I know I’m going to Vegas (today), but I don’t know where I’ll be flying Saturday,” Jakubauskas said.
The M’s will fly from Las Vegas to Minneapolis on Saturday.
The players who don’t make the team probably will fly back to Arizona and continue workouts for Triple-A Tacoma, which opens its season Thursday.
Lowe continued his strong finish to what began as a difficult spring training. He gave up one run and two hits in two innings against San Diego and, for the second straight game, had a crispness to his pitches he hadn’t shown early in camp. “I thought his stuff was better today,” Wakamatsu said. “We’re heading in the right direction. He’s been putting in a lot of time in the bullpen and working on some things and it’s getting better.” …
Third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo, who will begin the season with Triple-A Tacoma, was named the top rookie of spring training among the Mariners and Padres, who share the Peoria Sports Complex. He batted .404 with two homers and nine runs batted in before being sent down. “In camps before, I’d put all this pressure on myself,” Tuiasosopo said. “I thought why? I’m not going to make the team. This time I wanted to get to know Wak and the staff and let them see the type of player I am. I was able to relax, I didn’t try to do too much and look at what happened.”