After 'learning experience,' B. Lowe looks to rediscover All-Star form

March 2nd, 2024

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As Brandon Lowe battled through season-interrupting back issues the past two years, he learned a valuable lesson.

“I’m not as young as I once was,” Lowe deadpanned.

It’s not that simple, of course. Lowe is only 29 years old, turning 30 in July, and the injuries that have slowed him down have been unusual. There was the stress reaction in his back, which limited him to 65 games in 2022. The back inflammation that cost him a month last summer. The foul ball off his right kneecap in September, which ended his year with only 109 games played.

Lowe hasn’t had a fully healthy season since 2021, when he slugged 39 homers and drove in 99 runs over 149 games. He hasn’t matched that production since then, mostly because he hasn’t matched that games-played total. But this has been a normal Spring Training for Lowe, who recovered from a right patella fracture during the offseason, and he’s motivated to again prove what he can do as long as he’s in the lineup.

“The numbers have been there every single time that I am on the field,” Lowe said. “I feel as good as I did in '21, so just got to stay on the field like I did in '21 and we should be all set.”

Lowe said he’d like to play 150 games or more, although he understands that isn’t necessarily realistic with the way the Rays use their roster. Only two players have topped 150 games played for Tampa Bay since 2018: Willy Adames in ‘19 and Randy Arozarena each of the past two seasons.

The Rays can also manage Lowe’s workload and keep him fresh by sitting the left-handed slugger against some lefty pitchers. Amed Rosario, who thrives against southpaws, could back up Lowe at second base. Infield prospect Curtis Mead is another option, if he breaks camp with the team.

But this is a big year for Lowe, entering the final guaranteed season of his contract before a pair of club option years, and he wants to be on the field as often as he can be. He’s setting out to be available for 162 games, leaving it up to manager Kevin Cash to put him in the lineup or not. And Cash understands the value Lowe brings when he’s right physically.

“When he’s healthy, he gets MVP votes,” Cash said earlier in camp. “He’s a really talented player, a super talented hitter.”

Lowe made that clear in 2019, when he was an All-Star and finished third in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting. He was even better during the shortened '20 campaign, posting a .916 OPS with 14 homers in 56 games. And he was at his best in ’21, putting together an .863 OPS and leading Tampa Bay’s 100-win club with 4.5 Wins Above Replacement. Lowe finished eighth in the AL MVP voting in '20 and 10th in ’21.

Then came the injuries, limiting him to 174 games the past two years combined. Even when Lowe could manage his back pain enough to play, he wasn’t quite himself as he recorded a .691 OPS in 2022. Hitting coach Chad Mottola noted that Lowe’s injuries mostly affected his pregame work, which sometimes had to be pushed aside.

“He's always survived the games and played through pain. But the work's the key for him, and he's moving fine in his work and that's the big sign,” Mottola said. “He battled through it and never complained -- true pro -- so now we have that available for him. So we're expecting big things.”

Lowe said his back issues are “nice and behind me” now. He returned to form after spending a month on the injured list last year, hitting .254/.353/.483 with 12 homers in 59 games after July 4 … only to go back down for good after fouling a ball directly off his right knee on Sept. 21.

“He's had some freakish accidents,” Cash said. “Some of those you just can't avoid. It's not [because he's] not doing what he needs to do to keep his body in the lineup.”

Lowe joked that he will “do what I can to not inflict pain on myself” this year, but he’s also come to appreciate the importance of taking care of his body through additional time and preparation in the training room and weight room. He feels healthy now. The key is staying that way.

“It’s a learning experience,” Lowe said. “Hopefully those injuries are good and gone and we can not talk about them anymore.”