When former Rays first baseman Nate Lowe ended an 0-for-19 skid at the plate with a single that fell just in front of left fielder Austin Meadows in the fourth inning on Tuesday night, Brandon Lowe couldn’t help but give him a hard time.
“I kind of came up to him and I was like, 'Hey, man, like, you're not allowed to get a hit. If I'm struggling, you're struggling. We're tied, whether you like it or not,’” said Brandon Lowe, who was in an 0-for-15 funk of his own at that point of the Rays’ 8-3 loss to the Rangers. “And he was just like, 'Oh, now you can go get your hit.’”
Sure enough, Lowe led off the bottom of the fourth with a single on a ground ball that bounced off pitcher Kyle Gibson’s glove and eventually reached shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa slowly enough that Lowe could beat his throw to first base. It was Lowe’s first hit since his bases-clearing double against the Yankees on Friday and just his second since the first game of Tampa Bay’s series in Boston on April 5.
But Lowe went on to show signs that he’s nearly ready to end his slow start. In the sixth inning, he sent a fly ball to center field just shy of the warning track. In the eighth, he ripped a line-drive single to right field off lefty reliever Brett Martin. And after going hitless in his first three at-bats in the Rays’ 5-1 loss to Texas on Wednesday night, Lowe launched his first home run of the season to right-center field in the ninth inning.
“I don't think I've ever started a season off very well, from my debut to any start of a year,” said Lowe, who is 8-for-40 with six walks and 14 strikeouts. “It's just getting comfortable, getting timing down, all that kind of stuff, you know, it takes a little bit of time. This year, it took me a little bit longer, and now I feel good up there.”
Indeed, Lowe went hitless in his first six games after being called up in 2018. In 2019, he had only six hits in his first 27 at-bats. He acknowledged Wednesday that it sometimes takes a few games to discover his timing and get used to facing pitchers’ best stuff coming off Spring Training. But Lowe has also been one of the Rays’ most productive hitters over the last two years, slashing a combined .270/.347/.530 with 31 homers in 138 regular-season games from 2019-20.
The Rays know it’s only a matter of time until Lowe, their most valuable player a year ago, finds his footing and gets back in midseason form. After the hits he got Tuesday night, maybe Wednesday’s homer is an indication he’s already headed in that direction.
“Look, hits help. Whether they're soft, hard, whatever -- I think that's how tough this game can be, and the mentality of being able to kind of carry that and be consistent throughout the course of a long season is crucial,” manager Kevin Cash said. “And when you maybe don't have the best result, it becomes challenging. But he got the results yesterday with the hits, and hopefully that puts them in a better mindset going forward.
“It's still very, very early. We've got all the confidence in the world that Brandon's going to get hot and do his thing. And he's shown over time that he can go quiet, but for however long he goes quiet, he's shown the ability to make up for it -- you know, a complete 180 -- by carrying us for that period of time, too.”
Around the horn
• After being bumped from the leadoff spot to sixth in the batting order Tuesday night, Yoshi Tsutsugo returned to the lineup in the seven hole Wednesday. Cash said he hoped to relieve some of the pressure Tsutsugo might have been feeling atop the order, and Tsutsugo agreed that was the case on Tuesday. Tsutsugo entered Wednesday hitting just .147 with a .393 OPS and 14 strikeouts in his first 10 games.
“For these recent games, I really haven't had a good feel about my at-bats. So that's why my strikeout percentage is kind of getting higher,” Tsutsugo said via interpreter Brian Tobin. “But I'm feeling better and better gradually these days, so I'm hoping to get better.”
• Kevin Kiermaier ran on the field again Wednesday afternoon as he continues his recovery from a left quadriceps strain. Kiermaier will face live pitching at some point before Thursday night’s series finale at Tropicana Field, Cash said. Kiermaier is eligible to come off the 10-day IL on Friday, although it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to return.
• By optioning infielder Kevin Padlo to the alternate training site on Tuesday night to make room for starter Josh Fleming, the Rays decided to move forward with 12 position players and 14 pitchers on their roster. Cash said the club simply preferred to maintain as much pitching depth as possible during this stretch of 13 straight games and 30 games in 31 days.