HOUSTON -- The last time Nathaniel Lowe came to Minute Maid Park, Astros left-hander Framber Valdez threw a fastball near his head, which Lowe felt was intentional.
The first baseman was also in the midst of a second-half surge as a backbone of a Texas lineup that showed Houston just how dangerous it can be in a 13-5 rout, powered by a Lowe homer in his 2-for-4, two-walk night on July 26.
But after a strong July (1.001 OPS), Lowe came back to earth in August and posted the worst month of his past two seasons in September (.553 OPS).
With the Rangers returning to Houston for an American League Championship Series showdown beginning Sunday, a bounceback from Lowe’s lefty bat would go a long way against an Astros pitching staff with Valdez as its only southpaw.
“It’d be a good series for me to get hot,” Lowe said Thursday.
“He’s been battling,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy added. “He’s been trying to get his timing back. But his last game, he was on time. It showed, and he took some really good swings. We need him. We need everybody.”
Lowe, who has an .833 OPS vs. righties and a .643 OPS vs. lefties this year, did indeed show a potential spark in Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Orioles. In the second inning Tuesday night, he battled through a 15-pitch at-bat, going down quickly 0-2 vs. Dean Kremer and fouling off nine pitches before lining out to left field.
It was tied for the third-longest postseason plate appearance since pitch counts began to be tracked in 1988, behind only Austin Meadows’ 17-pitch strikeout in Game 4 of the 2021 ALDS and Johnny Damon’s 16-pitch lineout in Game 2 of the 2004 ALCS.
Then in the sixth, Lowe finally broke through, smashing a fastball a Statcast-projected 437 feet to right-center field for a solo homer.
The home run was Lowe’s first extra-base hit in 26 postseason plate appearances (including three in 2020 with the Rays). Lowe accordingly let out his emotions with an empathic two-handed fist pump, feeling like a weight was lifted off his shoulders.
“I think it was big for him,” Bochy said. “I think you could see it from him -- the emotion that came out when he hit that ball.”
Lowe is aware that emotions will run high in the Lone Star State rivalry between the clubs, after July’s benches-clearing scuffle. He mentioned that he kept tabs on Valdez during the teams’ final series in Arlington -- “There wasn’t anything resembling the aggression that we saw a little bit [in July],” Lowe said -- but he acknowledged the need to stay focused.
“Sure, emotions are going to get involved,” Lowe said. “It’s hard not to with the way the fan bases interact. But if we play too many emotional games, we’re going to lose sight of winning one pitch at a time.”
Amid Lowe’s September slump, Bochy moved him down from the No. 3 spot in the batting order, where he had performed for most of the season. Bochy acknowledged a need to balance the lineup and not put Corey Seager, also a left-handed hitter, and Lowe back to back. But if Lowe regains his mojo at the plate, he could provide a clean solution to a glaring hole in the No. 3 spot.
During an off-day Thursday, Lowe blasted a batting practice home run to the second deck of the right-field bleachers at Globe Life Field. Lowe said he hasn’t seen anyone, not even Seager, hit a home run that far in that part of the ballpark.
The four days off due to the sweep of the Orioles have helped Lowe feel “rested and refreshed” after a grueling road travel schedule to finish the season and begin the playoffs.
And Lowe is excited for the chance to take on the Astros’ right-handed pitching staff -- as well as Valdez.
“I got a pretty heavy dose of left-handers in Baltimore and felt like I kind of let some at-bats get away from me, but now that that’s over with,” Lowe said. “I’ve had two days to digest that series and get ready to go. It’s pretty obvious as to what I need to get better at.
“I don’t want to put it out there, but I've got a pretty good game plan of how I’m going to adjust.”