To hear OF Terrell Lowery tell it, the secret of his success is simple:
Lowery says he has gotten more comfortable, which has allowed him to be more confident, which has resulted in considerable success in what amounts to his first true opportunity for consistent playing time at the big-league level.
Since rejoining the Rays from Triple-A Durham on July 16, Lowery has been one of their most productive hitters, taking a .354 average into play Thursday.
Having bounced from the Rangers organization to the Mets, then to the Cubs, Lowery signed with the Rays as a minor-league free agent with 29 major-league at-bats on the back of his baseball card.
Lowery, 28, had a brief stay with the Rays in June, then went on a tear at Durham, hitting .438 with nine homers and 30 RBI during a 19-game stretch. Overall, he was hitting .335 with 15 homers, 57 RBI and 69 runs in 71 games for the Bulls.
"He came back here and picked up where he left off in Durham," manager Larry Rothschild said. "We put him out there right away and he made his way into playing a lot."
Lowery has hit well and has been impressive defensively, especially covering the vast centerfield at Tropicana Field. Having spent most of seven years in the minors, he is intent on continuing to get better.
"Every day is a step in the process of improving myself, and that's what it's all about every day," Lowery said. "I think I've helped myself to feel more comfortable at the plate facing major-league pitchers, which gives you more confidence believing in yourself."
But he also has the satisfaction of knowing that he can indeed play, and play well, in the big leagues.
"I think anybody who hasn't really played a lot at a certain level, they believe in themselves and their ability and what they think they can do, but it's just a matter of getting a chance to do that," Lowery said. "If you don't have the confidence in yourself, no one will. It's just a matter of you going out and showing it. A lot of guys have talked about what they can do, but they've gotten chances and didn't do it."
SIX-MAN BAND: Going from seven relievers to six won't have much of an affect on how Rothschild deploys the bullpen, but it magnifies his expectations of the starters. "I don't know that I'll use the bullpen differently, but the starters have to pitch deeper into games," Rothschild said. "I'll be very reluctant to take a starter out, no matter what's going on early in a game."
ROLANDO ALL RIGHT: Rolando Arrojo has pitched well since coming off the disabled list, posting a 3.75 ERA despite an 0-3 record in six starts. But he continues to have trouble with left-handed batters, so much so that Baltimore manager Ray Miller arranged his lineup Wednesday to have five left-handers among his first six batters. "That's why we had all the left-handers up front, to try and get something off Arrojo as soon as we could," Miller said. Against left-handers, Arrojo has allowed a .332 average and 12 homers in 193 at-bats. Against righties, he has allowed a .267 average and four homers in 146 at-bats.
RAYS BITS: Fred McGriff is still bothered by a strained left quadriceps, but Rothschild is hoping to return him to first base tonight. Both teams will wear futuristic uniforms for Saturday's Turn Ahead the Clock Night and Kauffman Stadium will be decorated in similar fashion. The Rays are in the midst of a 17-game stretch against teams with sub-.500 records. Dave Martinez got his team-high seventh outfield assist, throwing out Joe Randa trying to go from first to third on a single in the sixth. Paul Sorrento has reached double figures in homers eight straight seasons. Kansas City's Mike Sweeney extended his hitting streak to 24 games, second longest in the AL this season.
_ MARC TOPKIN