Lowe motivated; Glasnow's 'tremendous' BP

February 25th, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As he headed home for the offseason, found himself reflecting fondly on the dream-come-true experience of reaching the World Series with the Rays but also kicking himself for the part he played in October.

During the regular season, Lowe was the Rays’ most valuable player. He hit .269/.362/.554 and easily led the team in home runs (14), RBIs (37) and WAR (2.4). Then came the postseason, and Lowe suddenly looked nothing like himself. Although he did homer three times during Tampa Bay’s two victories in the World Series, he went just 9-for-76 with 28 strikeouts overall in the playoffs.

“Essentially not even being there for my team in that postseason stretch, I felt terrible,” Lowe said during a Zoom call on Wednesday. “I'd been pretty good throughout the whole year, and then it came down to the postseason. Thank God Randy [Arozarena] was playing out of his mind. Really picked me up. Really, the whole team kind of picked me up.

“I don't want to feel like I felt last year in the postseason. I want to be there next to the guy making history instead of sitting there watching.”

Rays manager Kevin Cash chalked up Lowe’s slump as just a terrible two-week stretch in San Diego (for the American League Division Series and Championship Series) that the versatile second baseman would like to have back. Even good hitters have bad stretches, so maybe Lowe simply fell into a funk against some of the Majors’ top pitching staffs.

“That's what happens when you run into good pitching. It becomes really challenging,” Cash said. “But I really wouldn't have any message for Brandon. 'Go do what you're good at. Try to compete when your timing's not locked in.' But when he's right, he's as dangerous as anybody in the American League.”

But in his search for more consistency, Lowe took a lesson from last October. He felt he needed to prepare to face the best, essentially, to be at his best. Even in the offseason, he wanted to challenge himself when he stepped up to the plate.

Rather than just mashing batting-practice fastballs until he got all his swings in, Lowe said he lined up against a pitching machine set to throw hard sliders and high-spin breaking balls. He simulated facing right-handers and lefties.

With Major League pitchers able to fine-tune their arsenals through the use of technology like Rapsodo and Edgertronic cameras, Lowe knows the competition is only going to get better. The idea is that he’ll be better, too.

“Really challenged myself to where I didn't leave every day this offseason going, ‘Man, I'm a really good hitter,’” Lowe said. “There's some days that I was like, ‘God, I should probably hang this up.’

“Really just that kind of aspect, understanding that everything in the game is advancing. Everybody's got better pitches, everybody's got that Rapsodo and HitTrax and stuff like that to understand their spin more. And this offseason was, you know, take everything at the high end of everybody's spin rate and stuff like that to really make myself have to go through these difficult at-bats.”

Glasnow wows in live BP
Right-hander faced hitters for the first time in camp on Wednesday morning, throwing 29 pitches to Ji-Man Choi, Joey Wendle, Yandy Díaz, Austin Meadows, Manuel Margot and Willy Adames, with a simulated inning break after the first three batters.

The hitters were mostly tracking and taking pitches, although Wendle did hit a chopper up the middle and Díaz smacked another one to right. Cash came away quite impressed with the way Glasnow looked, especially his new cutter/slider.

“He looked tremendous,” Cash said. “I can't imagine what it feels like to throw a baseball like he does. Just sitting from that catcher point of view or even a right-handed, left-handed hitter point of view, it's amazing how it explodes. … I'm not sure if he's going to call it a cutter or slider, but it's got a chance to be another special pitch for him. So he'll continue to work. His tempo was really good, and the velocity looked just like it did in October.”

Glasnow said he was pleased with the session and felt like facing hitters provided important feedback. He hasn’t settled on a name for the pitch, but he estimated that he threw it more than his fastball or curveball as he continues to tweak and experiment with it.

“As far as grip goes and comfort level throwing it, it's way higher than I expected, so I'm really happy about it,” Glasnow said. “The shape is inconsistent right now a little bit. I think I can play with it a bit if I want it to be more sweepy or if I want it to be a little harder. I can kind of just change where my hand is on it.”

Around the horn
• Wednesday was the Rays’ first day of live batting practice, in which pitchers face their teammates without screens or batting cages set up on the field. Along with Glasnow, the other pitchers who took the mound were lefties and Kenny Rosenberg and right-handers , Tyler Zombro, Yacksel Ríos, Chris Ellis, Hunter Strickland, Pete Fairbanks, Ryan Thompson and Michael Wacha.

• Cash said it was “very encouraging” to see Kittredge pitching again after his injury last season and also highlighted the work of Springs, acquired from the Red Sox last week, and Ríos, the non-roster right-handed reliever who has pitched for the Phillies and Pirates.

“Yacksel, there's a lot to like. It's just, let's harness it in the zone as much as possible,” Cash said. “A lot of very similar messages will be given to a lot of the new faces.”

• To further increase their defensive versatility and flexibility, the Rays could work in some established players at different positions this spring. Lowe, for instance, is slated to get more reps in the outfield while seeing some time at third base, in addition to his regular work at second. (That should allow Wendle to spend more time at second as well.) Additionally, infielder Mike Brosseau will spend some time at shortstop. And Yoshi Tsutsugo, already capable of playing the outfield and third, will try to add first base to his profile.

• In one of the day’s more entertaining moments, that hard ground ball Díaz smacked into right field off Glasnow delighted the infielder’s teammates, plenty familiar with his penchant for hitting grounders to the opposite field. (Last year, Díaz posted a 66 percent ground-ball rate and hit 45.4 percent of his batted balls to right.) As the ball rolled in, one person on the field shouted, “Like he never left!”