Lowe repays trust as Rays reach 40 first

Go-ahead homer off lefty snaps slump for 2019 All-Star, lifts AL-best Tampa Bay

June 12th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- was the Rays’ most valuable player last season, a worthy top-10 finisher in the American League MVP voting. But when he steps up to the plate these days, he sees the same numbers you do. And for a time, he said, that pressure affected him, making him believe he needed a 4-for-4 game every day to quickly emerge from his early season slump.

But Lowe recently took a step back and realized this year isn’t like last season. The Rays still have nearly 100 games left to play, so he has plenty of time and at-bats ahead of him. As he put it Friday afternoon, “We won’t be hitting .180 forever.”

Especially not if he has more nights like this one.

Lowe blasted a go-ahead homer to right-center and knocked a bloop single to shallow left in the Rays’ 4-2 victory over the Orioles on Friday night at Tropicana Field.

While left-hander followed up his nine-inning complete game with a strong six-inning start, it was Lowe’s two-run shot off lefty Keegan Akin in the fourth inning that turned the tide and helped Tampa Bay become the Majors’ first team to 40 wins.

“The guy works his [butt] off, and there's no question about that. He's a great player, and we rely on him a lot,” Yarbrough said of Lowe. “So it doesn't surprise me that he's going out there and helping the team, and I know he's going to do that the rest of the year for us.”

The Rays have won 21 of their last 26 games since May 13, building up the AL’s best record and matching their overall win total at the end of last year’s shortened schedule. But the strange thing about Tampa Bay’s torrid stretch is that, as hitting coach Chad Mottola recently noted, it’s not as if the lineup is hitting on all cylinders.

Randy Arozarena hasn’t caught fire yet. Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Brosseau, who each had a multihit game on Friday, have had their ups and downs. And Lowe, an AL All-Star in 2019 who was even better last year, hasn’t quite clicked at any point this season.

“He's not where he wants to be. He's working every day to get where he knows he should be,” Mottola said last Sunday. “That's another example of, we're performing, but there's still plenty of guys in the lineup that know they have to do better.”

Lowe knew it, too.

He said he has been able to escape the stress of the game at home, in the company of his wife, Madison, and dog, a mini-bernedoodle named Collie. At the ballpark, though, he has been working -- searching in the batting cage for the right feeling, poring over video, consulting friends and coaches outside the organization. Finally, he thought he and Mottola figured out something “that we were kind of overlooking” during Wednesday’s game.

But in his first at-bat against Akin, Lowe went down on three pitches. It was the continuation of a troubling trend for the left-handed-hitting second baseman: He has been more or less himself against right-handers, but southpaws have given him all sorts of trouble. After that second-inning strikeout, Lowe was just 4-for-64 with 29 strikeouts against lefties this season.

Manager Kevin Cash has been more selective with Lowe’s matchups, occasionally sitting him against a lefty starter in favor of a right-handed infielder like Brosseau. But Lowe was back in there Friday night.

“It's definitely nice that they have this confidence in me, that they see that it's going to rebound,” Lowe said in front of the home dugout Friday afternoon. “Hopefully, I can repay that confidence here pretty soon.”

He did. With Arozarena on third base and the Rays trailing by a run with one out in the fourth, Lowe fell behind in the count, 1-2. He said his only goal at that point was to get Arozarena in and tie the game. But Akin left a 91.1-mph fastball over the middle of the plate, and Lowe unloaded on it. He sent the ball a projected 420 feet out to right-center field at 106.7 mph.

“We know what he's capable of. We know that, when he's right, he can knock balls out of the ballpark to any spot in the stadium,” Cash said. “That swing and the way that ball carried looks like Brandon when he's right. That's what he's doing.”

Lowe agreed, noting that he made another slight adjustment before the 1-2 pitch from Akin. Whatever it was, Lowe said, “something just kind of clicked right before that pitch.” Reviewing the video later, he found that he was, indeed, taking a more direct path to the ball.

“Everything felt really good for that swing,” Lowe said. “Hopefully, we can build on today.”

In his next at-bat, Lowe hit a 66.9-mph bloop that landed in left field for a single. That’s the kind of good luck he has been looking for, the kind he probably deserves after some hard-hit outs earlier this season. With a few more hits like that, and a few more nights like this, he won’t have to worry about hitting .180 for long.

“We've got all the confidence in the world in Brandon, and Brandon's got a lot of confidence in himself,” Cash said. “He's a big, big part of our team, and the last thing we're going to do is run from him.”