Sowers' quirks work in his favor
Left-hander learns quickly on his way up Major League ladder
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Jeremy Sowers was going to name his cat after one of the main characters from the obscure 1992 kids movie, "3 Ninjas." This much had been decided. But which character, exactly? There was Samuel "Rocky" Douglas. "But the name Rocky would have been misleading," Sowers reasoned, knowing full well people would consider it an homage to a certain Italian boxer. There was Jeffrey "Colt" Douglas. "But a colt is a horse, so that doesn't work," Sowers figured. And there was Michael "Tum Tum" Douglas. Sowers had a winner. "Tum Tum," he said, "fits the goofy nature of the cat." And the fact that a conversation about "3 Ninjas," of all things, had found its way into a Major League clubhouse speaks to the quirky nature of Sowers -- the youngest member of the Indians' rotation, a pop culture savant and, apparently, a man who places great value on originality in pet appellations. Luckily for the Tribe, Sowers doesn't use his advanced analytical skills strictly for naming animals. Those same skills are what helped the 23-year-old left-hander make an impressive transition from Triple-A Buffalo to the big leagues last season, when he went 7-4 record and 3.57 ERA in 14 starts. Sowers, not quite three years removed from being taken by the Tribe with the sixth overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, didn't quickly force his way into a starting role with the team with dominant raw stuff. Hardly. He is where he is today thanks in large part to a mind that is eager to soak up information and quick to make adjustments. "He's 23, but he pitches like a veteran in his late 30s," teammate Paul Byrd said of Sowers. "When I give him my thoughts on something or how to pitch a guy, he's one of the best I've seen at applying it. When you pitch like that and you're able to apply something you learned in the locker room hours before, the sky's the limit." Still, a stern test lies ahead. Sowers won't be sneaking up on anyone this year. Whenever a rookie has early success against clubs, the question becomes whether or not he'll be able to sustain that success as he faces those same teams a second or third time. The video is out there, the scouting reports are out there and the secret is out. "I have to understand that if the first time I faced a guy I got him out on three outside fastballs, he's probably going to be looking for that outside fastball," Sowers said. "I can't just thrive on one thing. I have to prove to guys that I can get them out on several different pitches." Said manager Eric Wedge: "It will be somewhat of a chess match." If that is indeed the case, one could hardly be faulted for giving the edge to the brainy Sowers. While he might not be able to dazzle anyone with straight heat, his lack of an out pitch can work to his advantage. "I'm capable of throwing anything at any time, so I keep the guy guessing," he said. "I think that helps me."
Sowers believes he knows what helped him most in 2006. Not his success, but his shortcomings. He certainly took great satisfaction in logging consecutive complete-game shutouts against the Twins and Mariners, but he didn't really learn much from those outings. Rather, he turns to a July 8 start against the Orioles, in which he surrendered seven earned runs and was knocked out of the game after just 3 2/3 innings of work. "I felt very embarrassed I couldn't get out of the fourth inning," he said. "But I think that made me better. I look back on the stuff that happened when I was pitching bad, and I learned more from that than pitching shutouts." That, in Byrd's estimation, is the sign of a pitcher who is going places. "His first two weeks in the big leagues were more important than the last two," Byrd said. "The reason I say that is because he struggled the first two weeks, and he handled it very well. That was important to see. He didn't look like a deer in the headlights when he got hit around. His poise and approach was just phenomenal." Sowers isn't looking to change his approach as he enters his first full season in the Majors. "There's a comfort factor in knowing what to expect and knowing the guys around you personally," he said. "But I'm doing the same thing I've done the last couple years, in terms of preparing as a starter to be ready. The process is the same." This offseason, Sowers and his fiancée, Ashley, went through the process of becoming pet owners. They had hoped to get a puggle -- a crossbreed of a pug and a beagle -- but eventually settled for the lower-maintenance cat option. When he told his interviewer he named his cat Tum Tum, Sowers knew what was coming. "Please tell me you get the reference," he said. He was met with a blank stare. "Only, like, two people have gotten it," Sowers said with a shrug. "Otherwise, it just sounds like a girly cat name." Yes, much to his dismay, references to "3 Ninjas" have not yet found their way into the mainstream lexicon. But Sowers can take solace in the fact that, on the field, he's making a fine and memorable name for himself.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.