With Nate Lowe hitting, time for Ji-Man Choi to show Rays what he can do

Manager Kevin Cash said they’re looking to get Choi out of an extended slump. Also, a Kiermaier achievement, McKay promotion.
DIRK SHADD   |   TimesTampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) celebrates the catch made by Rays left fielder Tommy Pham (29) after he made a leaping catch at the wall on a ball hit by Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman (26) to end the fifth inning at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Monday, June 10, 2019.
DIRK SHADD | TimesTampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi (26) celebrates the catch made by Rays left fielder Tommy Pham (29) after he made a leaping catch at the wall on a ball hit by Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman (26) to end the fifth inning at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Monday, June 10, 2019.
Published July 18

NEW YORK — Rookie first baseman Nate Lowe has made a pretty good impression since coming back from the minors on July 4, evidenced by his AL Player of the Week award.

Now it will be interesting to see how Ji-Man Choi, who has been the primary starter, responds.

Especially given how the Rays many eventually have to make a choice between the left-handed hitters, perhaps when Brandon Lowe returns from the injured list in the next week or so.

After going 0-for-4 in Thursday’s doubleheader, Choi is hitting .148 (8-for-54) with one homer and six RBIs over his past 18 games around a 10-day injured list stint for a left ankle strain and other minor ailments. Overall, he is hitting .257 with nine homers, 33 RBIs and a .758 OPS.

Manager Kevin Cash said they are looking to get Choi, who didn’t start the second game but pinch-hit, improved offensively.

“A little bit better timing at the plate,’’ Cash said. “It seems like he’s gone up there, he’s been behind in the count at times. He’s missed some pitches.

“(Wednesday), it didn’t count for anything, but he took a really good round of batting practice. And he did some extra work with (hitting coach) Chad (Mottola) in the cage, which was good.’’

Also, Cash said, they want “to get him active to play first base again. We’ve had him off his feet, for the IL stint, not playing all that much in Baltimore, two lefties here. So get him going defensively and offensively.’’

Medical matters: Duffy, B. Lowe

Infielder Matt Duffy (hamstring) played his ninth and expected final game of his latest rehab assignment for Triple-A Durham on Thursday, going 4-for-5, and seems set to join the Rays and make his season debut, likely this weekend. Duffy, who played shortstop on Wednesday and was back at third Thursday, was 10-for-32. … Though infielder Brandon Lowe continues to make progress, the severity of the bruise to his right leg from fouling off a ball on July 2 could keep him sidelined through the homestand that ends Wednesday.

Kiermaier can do it all

By batting cleanup in cleanup in Thursday’s first game, Kevin Kiermaier has now started at all nine spots in the order during his career. His most at-bats have come in the Nos. 1 and 8 slots. Kiermaier is the 61st Rays player to do so during his career (including time with other teams), per research whiz Diane Firstman.

Double dipping

Thursday marked the Rays fourth doubleheader of the season, matching their 2004 franchise high. They were swept in Kansas City and New York, and split in Boston and Baltimore. … It was their 31st doubleheader overall, having swept four, been swept in 14 and split 13. … It was their 10th traditional (as opposed to day-night) doubleheader, in which they’d gone 1-4-5. … It was their eighth doubleheader at the Yankees, matching the Red Sox for the most against, though their first in New York since Sept. 21, 2011. The Rays have been swept in six and split two. … Rays who started both games were Austin Meadows (leftfield, rightfield), Yandy Diaz (third base, DH), Nate Lowe (DH, first base), Kevin Kiermaier (centerfield), Willy Adames (shortstop), Joey Wendle (second base)

Quote of the day

“With all due respect, good for him because there’s not many people who think like that.’’

Rays Kevin Kiermaier, referencing Ernie Banks’ oft-cited quote, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame ... Let's play two!," in sharing his dislike for doubleheaders.

Miscellany

* Lefty Brendan McKay was called up from Triple-A and will start Friday’s game against the White Sox; righty Hunter Wood was sent down.

* Outfielder Guillermo Heredia, who was somewhat unexpectedly option to the minors on Tuesday to make room for pitcher Jalen Beeks, was brought back to serve as the 26th man for the second game, and then sent again to Triple-A.

* Austin Meadows’ leadoff homer in the opener marked the third time the season he homered in three straight games.

* Cash said the doubleheader wouldn’t cause too much disruption to their pitching plans, but they are likely to move Beeks up a day, to Monday, after his short Tuesday outing.

* The Fox Sports Sun TV crew was also scrambling Thursday, as a water main break in downtown Fort Lauderdale prevented them from using their usual studio for the pre- and post-game shows. Instead, Tricia Whitaker, Kevin Burkhardt and Brian Anderson hosted from Yankee Stadium.

* With the White Sox in town for the weekend, it’s worth noting that in his first three games against his former team, in April in Chicago, Avisail Garcia went 8-for-15 with a homer and four RBI.

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