ATLANTA --- Derek Lowe might be considered a surprise choice as the Atlanta Braves' Opening Day pitcher today against Carlos Zambrano and the Chicago Cubs.
Only a few months ago, Lowe wasn't sure he'd be on the Braves' staff this season. Lowe was in trade rumors after the team re-signed Tim Hudson, leaving the Braves with six starters. Lowe stayed in Atlanta when Javier Vazquez was traded to the New York Yankees.
Manager Bobby Cox could have picked Jair Jurrjens, Tommy Hanson or Hudson for Monday's start. Though Lowe and Vazquez shared the team lead with 15 wins last season, Lowe's 4.67 ERA was the highest of the rotation.
Recent history supported Cox's choice, though. He rarely strays from a winning formula, and Lowe opened the 2009 season with eight shutout innings in a 4-1 win at Philadelphia.
The Braves and Cubs bring similarly hopeful expectations into the season. Neither team is a popular choice to win its division, but each is considered among the top wild-card picks.
"Everyone I think is real excited to get going because we believe we have a very good team," Lowe said. "I think that's exciting because not everybody can say that. When you look around your clubhouse you can say we have a chance to do something special this year. That makes it that more exciting, and that's where we are."
Lowe's 2009 win over Philadelphia was his first in four Opening Day starts. He says pitching a home opener will bring a different thrill.
"I'll just go out there and try to pitch like it's a normal game, but the atmosphere is maybe the best that we have all year long," Lowe said. "You try to enjoy it but also understand you have to go out there and do your job."
Cox said Sunday that Melky Cabrera, who came to Atlanta in the Vazquez deal, will hit leadoff and start in left field for the Braves.
Nate McLouth, slowed by a sore hamstring at the end of spring training, will start in center field and hit eighth, while rookie right fielder Jason Heyward, who hit .305 in the spring, will hit seventh.
Cox said first baseman Troy Glaus, who hit .385 in the spring, will hit fifth behind Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Cox has shortstop Yunel Escobar hitting sixth.
This will be Cox's last Opening Day. He announced last year his plans to retire after this season.
"Opening Day is a big deal," Cox said. "It always has been. You get the hair standing on your arm a little bit. We're going to be sold out, standing room only, and it's going to be a great day."