LOS ANGELES -- When the Rays released their lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers, the biggest surprise was that Nate Lowe, who came up through the system as a first baseman, was in the starting lineup, but as the third baseman.
Lowe started at third in three games for Triple-A Durham this season and appeared in two more as a defensive replacement. The 24-year-old has consistently been taking ground balls at the position since coming back up Sept. 1 and has played a couple of innings at third as a late defensive replacement for the Rays.
He also played third all throughout high school before switching over to first in college. But Wednesday will be the first time that Lowe is starting a game at any infield position that isn’t first base at the big league level.
“I’m excited,” Lowe said. “We’re at the point here, where I’m in the lineup to try and put some runs across and hopefully beat this Dodgers team, and to be able to do it from third base is super cool.”
Lowe won’t get a ton of playing time at third down the stretch, but it creates some versatility for the Rays against right-handed pitching. Eric Sogard continues to nurse a right foot injury and was unavailable for the series against the Dodgers. Rays manager Kevin Cash said that adding Lowe gave the team another left-handed-hitting option against a Dodgers bullpen that doesn’t have a lot of lefty arms.
“I think Nate has gotten the wrong end of the stick a little bit because his last 10 at-bats or so, we’ve asked him to go hit against the best reliever on every team,” Cash said. “That’s not very fair for any young player, or any player for that matter. This seemed like a pretty good opportunity to get him in there and hopefully guarantee that he sees right-handed pitching.”
Defensively, Cash has been hitting ground balls to Lowe during pregame work and felt comfortable enough inserting him at the position in a pivotal game against Los Angeles.
“In fairness, is he going to play defense like [Matt] Duffy or [Daniel] Robertson or Joey [Wendle]?” Cash said. “No, he’s not. He’s learning on the fly, but that’s how we’re going to maximize and get the most out of our roster right now.”
For Lowe, he’s just ready for the first ground ball to be hit his way.
“First ground ball is going to be fun, but I’d like to get that one out of the way early,” Lowe said, with a smile. “For some reason I’ve been labeled as not a good defender, but I feel pretty good about it. I get to start at third base and hit in the three-hole at Dodger Stadium -- that’s pretty cool.”
With just 10 games remaining in the season, including Wednesday’s finale against the Dodgers, the Rays have a solid chance of making the postseason.
Entering Tuesday, Baseball-Reference.com gave the Rays a 49.6 percent chance as one of the two American League Wild Card teams. FanGraphs was even more generous to Tampa Bay, giving it a 58.2 percent chance of playing in the AL Wild Card Game on Oct. 2.
The Rays entered Tuesday with a half-game lead over the Indians for the second AL Wild Card spot, and they were two games behind the A’s for the top spot.
However, Tampa Bay has the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams, playing seven of its final 10 games against teams over .500. Cleveland plays six of its last 11 against winning clubs, while Oakland finishes out its last 11 games without playing a team over .500.