Lowe 'tinkering' with second-half approach

July 6th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- Sunday morning at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., Rays second baseman said he felt things were starting to come together for him offensively. He had ended his unsatisfying first half with home runs in back-to-back games the previous week, and Rays manager Kevin Cash agreed that the 2019 All-Star seemed to be in a better spot.

But while Tampa Bay has seen a better version of Lowe lately, even in what he called “probably the worst year of my life,” his continued physical and mental adjustments have the Rays believing the best is yet to come.

“We know that Brandon's a special player and a special guy with a bat in his hand,” Cash said Sunday. “I think it's coming that he's going to get really hot here and start doing the damage that he's done for multiple seasons now with us.”

Lowe’s first career grand slam off Cleveland lefty Logan Allen in the second inning of Tampa Bay’s 9-8 win on Monday night was yet another sign of progress. It was his fifth home run in a 12-game stretch, his eighth in 24 games since June 4, his fifth of the season off a left-hander and more proof that his tinkering at the plate will pay off in the second half.

“Coming off a lefty helps that much more, just for his overall psyche,” Cash said after Monday’s game. “We talked in Buffalo [that] we felt Brandon was kind of trending in the right direction, and he's continuing to show that.”

Consider the frustrations of the past nine months for Lowe. The Rays’ most valuable player during the 60-game regular season a year ago, he hit just .118 with 28 strikeouts in 82 plate appearances during the Rays’ run to the World Series. He went to work over the winter, preparing to face opposing pitchers’ best stuff, but it didn’t immediately yield better results to start this season.

At the end of May, Lowe was hitting just .189 with a .679 OPS. Even with his recent improvements, his .205 batting average is 133rd out of 136 qualified big league hitters. He’s struck out 101 times, fifth-most in the Majors. After crushing left-handed pitchers last season, he’s hitting just .115/.196/.299 with 40 strikeouts in 97 plate appearances against them this year. And there’s no obvious explanation, like an injury, for his slump.

Those numbers admittedly ate at the driven Lowe as he saw them on the scoreboard walking up to the plate earlier this season. But at some point, he said, he came to terms with the fact that one at-bat wouldn’t change them. A 3-for-3 day won’t immediately boost his batting average to the .290 or .300 mark he desires. It’s going to take time, one good at-bat after another.

“It’s a culmination of the whole year. To say that I've had probably the worst year of my life would probably be pretty accurate, and I don't think I've ever hit this bad,” said Lowe, who turned 27 on Tuesday’s off-day. “But instead of looking back over the whole year, you look back 10 games or 10 at-bats, and you can see yourself trending in the right direction. Those are the things we focus on, not everything that's happened this year.”

And there have been some encouraging trends for Lowe. Since June 1, he’s put together an .879 OPS. His overall adjusted OPS+ is 11% better than the league average mark. His performance against right-handed pitchers (.861 OPS) is right in line with his career mark (.859 OPS). He’s hit 17 homers, second on the team behind All-Star catcher Mike Zunino and tied for his career high. He’s driven in 43 runs, third-most on the team.

There’s also this: While he’s four games played away from matching his career-high total of 82, set in 2019, he still has the better part of three months to get his numbers where he wants them to be.

“He’s a competitor. He's a worker. He is very meticulous,” Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “Every day he's probably tinkering, tinkering, tinkering to a fault in order to get this to happen. You'd rather have that guy that's always working than the guy that just shows up. So he's handled it the best way he can handle it, and that's by working.”

Lowe said he’s sent video of his swing to “probably four or five different guys,” seeking input from coaches and friends. He’s constantly working with Mottola and the Rays’ staff, and his most recent tweak -- tucking in his back elbow earlier in his swing -- has helped him stay through the ball longer and drive more back-spun balls to left field. Getting more comfortable with that adjustment, Mottola believes, will only continue to pay dividends.

“The work behind the scenes has been relentless,” Mottola said. “We know what [Lowe] can do, so it's just a matter of time. Luckily, we have 162 [games] instead of 60 this year.”

Lowe has been a streaky hitter throughout his career, alternating scorching stretches with cold spells, so one view is that he’s due for a hot streak soon. With his swing in a better place and a mindset of accepting he can’t change the numbers on the scoreboard in one night, what better time than now?

“It's going to be a process of getting back to where it is,” Lowe said. “As long as I'm up there putting up good at-bats and doing stuff for the team, everything's going to take care of itself.”