For B. Lowe, being pain-free is bigger than numbers

Díaz returns to Rays' lineup 3 days after HBP; Rasmussen, Raley, J. Lowe shine

March 13th, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- The three-run homer off a left-handed pitcher was nice enough for . So were the line-drive single to right field and the sacrifice fly to left field during the Rays’ 9-5 win over the Tigers on Monday afternoon at Tropicana Field.

But Lowe isn’t going to get caught up in Spring Training statistics, although he’s not going to complain about good results now, either. The more important thing is how he feels, which is much different than a year ago.

“I don't feel any pain when I swing,” Lowe said, “so it's fantastic.”

Back issues limited Lowe to 65 games last season, including only four after Aug. 26, and clearly hampered him at the plate even when he could take the field. Tampa Bay’s second baseman batted just .221 with only eight homers and a .691 OPS, a far cry from the hitter whose numbers landed him within the top 10 of the American League MVP Award voting in 2020 and ‘21.

But Lowe believes the stress reaction in his lower back won’t limit him moving forward. It certainly didn’t seem to bother him on Monday, when he pulled a slider from lefty Tyler Holton a projected 369 feet out to right field for his second homer of the spring.

“I don't know that pitchers are using the whole arsenal. Maybe I'm not getting pitched the way that I would. I'm more just happy where the health is,” Lowe said. “I feel good at the plate, swinging. I feel great in the field, running and doing everything like that. So I'm happy with that, and then as we get closer to Opening Day, we'll see. Hopefully everything kind of stays the way it has been.”

The 28-year-old said he didn’t take a single swing -- “a bat, a golf club, a broomstick, nothing” -- from the time he went on the injured list last Sept. 13 until Jan. 1. He dove into rehabilitation work four days a week and hit the weight room five days a week. An extended “pre-practice” routine now includes exercises designed to strengthen smaller core muscles supporting his back.

“Making sure that I'm in the weight room, working out, probably around five days a week just to stay on top of some sort of program, some sort of regimen, to make sure that the body is staying strong,” Lowe said. “Hopefully that was just, I think, just a freak injury last year.”

Díaz back in the lineup
After making his Spring Training debut on Feb. 27, corner infielder missed nine games due to a hip flexor injury, returned on Friday, then exited after being hit on his left hand by a pitch while leading off the bottom of the first inning. Those X-rays came back negative, and Díaz was able to take live at-bats against teammate Shane McClanahan over the weekend.

“He struck me out two times,” Díaz said through interpreter Manny Navarro, “but it's all good.”

Díaz, coming off a career year in which he hit .296/.401/.423, returned to Grapefruit League action on Monday afternoon. Batting leadoff, he went 1-for-1 with two walks while playing four innings at third base. He said he felt good, isn’t worried about the time he has missed this spring and expects to be ready for Opening Day.

“In about a week, if I get a decent amount of at-bats, I think I usually can be pretty good,” he said through Navarro.

Added Rays manager Kevin Cash: “If there's one guy that's going to miss time in Spring Training, we've got a lot of confidence he's going to hit.”

Around the horn
• Right-hander allowed just one unearned run, one hit and one walk while striking out three over three innings against the Tigers. Rasmussen was slated to start the fourth but instead threw additional pitches in the Rays’ bullpen rather than returning to the mound after a long break in the dugout during Tampa Bay’s six-run, 12-batter third inning.

• Cash continued to praise the work of outfielder and outfielder/first baseman . Lowe, batting .308 this spring, went 1-for-3 with an RBI single and a stolen base. Raley went 1-for-3 with a two-run single and a walk during the Rays’ big third.

• Tigers outfielder Austin Meadows returned to Tropicana Field on Monday for the first time since being traded to Detroit for infielder Isaac Paredes in April 2022. A ‘19 AL All-Star who spent parts of four seasons in Tampa Bay, Meadows spent time catching up with Cash, coaches and old teammates.