Even after a couple quiet games in a row, the Rays aren’t worried about their lineup. At some point, manager Kevin Cash said, they’ll snap out of the funk that led to them scoring just one run between Sunday and Monday’s losses. He has a simple reason for believing so.
“These guys are way too talented not to,” Cash said. “It's just frustrating, in the moment, for all of us.”
Both of those statements might apply especially to Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay’s most valuable player last season. Lowe snapped an 0-for-15 skid with a single to right field in the third inning of the Rays' 4-3 win over the A's on Tuesday night, but he's still batting just .160/.277/.309 with 27 strikeouts in 94 plate appearances this year.
Lowe is not solely responsible for the Rays’ collective slump, of course. Willy Adames entered Tuesday on an 0-for-14 skid. Yandy Díaz was hitless in his last eight at-bats. Mike Brosseau was 0-for-5, Joey Wendle 0-for-9, Austin Meadows 0-for-10 and so on. The issue was mostly one of timing, Cash said -- hitters coming in late on fastballs and early on offspeed stuff while swinging out of the zone at breaking balls.
How to fix it? Easier said than done.
“If it was something that simple, I would love for someone to come up and smack me on the head and tell me what I'm doing,” Lowe said before Tuesday’s game. “There's not a person out there that's more upset and mad at me than myself. ... I hate not doing well.
“I'm up every night trying to watch video, looking at at-bats, trying to figure out what that little thing is. Been playing for so long that I understand that it's going to be something super simple that I've overlooked for two weeks. And maybe it's just one little tweak, and then everything's back to normal. And I'm hoping to find that fix here pretty soon.”
Lowe acknowledged that he’s been pitched tougher than last season. And he’s run into some bad luck, as his expected slugging percentage (.483) and expected weighted on-base average (.342) were noticeably higher than his actual marks (.316 and .273, respectively) after Monday’s game. But Lowe put the burden to improve on himself, and he expects a personal and team-wide breakthrough soon enough.
“I don't think that anybody's really worried. We understand that it's a long season, and it's a hard game,” Lowe said. “When we have tough days like yesterday, the day before, we've really got to flush the results of that and just understand that we have to come to the yard the next day, maybe watch some video, [get an] understanding of what I was doing wrong yesterday or look at some of the pitches you were swinging at. Just something to [make sure] yesterday's failures weren't a total loss, you know? You learn something from it, and you move on.”
Rays set to reach vaccination threshold
With at least 85% of their Tier 1 players and staff vaccinated, the Rays will soon begin operating under relaxed health and safety protocols put in place amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The team must wait for its personnel to clear the two-week waiting period following their final doses, at which point they will be considered fully vaccinated.
Clubs were informed just before Opening Day that MLB and the MLBPA have agreed to relax certain health and safety protocols contained in the 2021 Operations Manual for fully vaccinated Tier 1 Individuals and for clubs where 85% of their Tier 1 Individuals are fully vaccinated. This applies to all players and staff who are considered Tier 1, including those at the alternate site. As part of that memo, players and staff were again strongly encouraged to receive one of the approved COVID-19 vaccines when eligible.
Players and coaches still must wear masks in the clubhouse when they reach that point, for example, but they’ll no longer have to do so in the dugout or in the bullpen. Among the other benefits: being able to eat indoors at restaurants and the return of communal activities, like playing video games in the clubhouse.
“It goes back to, like, kind of normal life,” player representative Tyler Glasnow said. “I just think it's nice to kind of just go back to reality a little bit, just kind of make it like a normal season. I think into a 162-game season, it's nice to just … do whatever you can to alleviate stress, and I think this is a good place to start.”
Left-hander Cody Reed and right-hander Collin McHugh (low back strain) will face hitters at the Rays’ alternate training site on Thursday, which Cash called “encouraging news” for the two rehabbing relievers. Reed threw a bullpen session on Tuesday, his first since receiving a Botox injection to address weakness in his left thumb.
After pitching Thursday, both relievers are set to throw in a simulated game at Tropicana Field this weekend before likely rejoining the club during the West Coast road trip that begins Monday in Anaheim.