KANSAS CITY, Mo. – How long Nate Lowe stays with the Rays for now may be more related to Austin Meadows’ sprained thumb or Joey Wendle’s fractured wrist than anything he does at the plate or in the field.
How well Lowe does during this first stint in the majors, whether he shows off the prodigious power, mature approach and consistent production that propelled him through three minor-league levels last year, remains to be seen.
But Lowe made it to the major leagues, batting fifth as the DH Monday night in Kauffman Stadium, and that alone was something.
For a guy who had to work every step of the way up as a 13th-round pick in 2016 out of Mississippi State with just a $100,000 bonus. Who got labeled the other Lowe when the Rays took younger brother Josh 13th overall in the same draft. Who was even considered by some as merely a courtesy pick, to get his brother signed and/or to keep him company.
“It’s pretty awesome,’’ Nate Lowe said. “To know that all the work that you put in, not only in the season but in the offseason, and for as long as I’ve been playing, really to pay off by getting here (Monday). It’s everything you can think that it is.”
Lowe’s impressive performance last season, hitting a combined .330 with 27 home runs, 102 RBIs and a .985 OPS, not only earned him the Rays’ minor-league player of the year award, but got him into the discussion as an option during this season at first base or DH.
And with the two key left-handed bats out for at least a few more weeks — with Meadows expected back first — and a run of mostly right-handed starters coming up, Lowe got the word late Sunday night at the Durham airport after a rough flight home from Columbus, that he was getting the chance to show he’s as ready as he felt he was since spring training.
“I’m not here on accident and I’m not here not to contribute,’’ he said. “So here we are.’’
Manager Kevin Cash said the Rays, who improved to a majors-best 19-9 with an 8-5 win Monday, are excited to see if he can help.
“We rely so much on matchups and being able to have some of those in-game advantages, when you lose Austin, when you lose Joey, those are two big left-handed bats in our lineup,’’ Cash said. “It made the most sense for Nate to get the opportunity now to come up here and try to fill that void a little bit.’’
Lowe got off to a good start, with a walk and a double that led to an eighth-inning run in five trips to the plate.
"He had good at bats,'' Cash said. "I think we had a pretty good understanding of that’s who he is. The walk and then the double. It was an impacting double where he gets on base and then he scores to get it from one to two runs, so that was huge. But overall the confidence he showed. It certainly didn’t appear like it was his first major league game.''
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And as awesome and dream fulfilling and other colorful things that it was, Lowe said that actually stepping in at the plate didn’t feel all that different either.
“I’ve been in some pretty high adrenaline spots before,'' he said, "but you know, getting out there and it’s like a weird comfortable feeling of like, this is something I feel like I’m supposed to do.''
Lowe will play some at first base, though he’s not any better than, and maybe even a tick below, Ji-Man Choi defensively. Though with Choi coming off a calf strain, Monday being his first start in more than a week, they may alternate between first and DH. A further trickle down with those two spots covered could see the Rays giving Daniel Robertson some regular reps at short in place of immensely struggling Willy Adames, with Yandy Diaz manning third.
Lowe, 23, is a mature type, and has the sense to not get too concerned with any of the moving parts. Simplifying his swing during extensive work before the 2018 season was a huge element in his success, and keeping the rest of the job simple is a wise carryover and a key part of his confidence, boosted by a solid start at Durham, hitting .300 with three homers, 14 RBIs and a .987 OPS.
“I think the progression over the last two years is what got me here,’’ he said. “Because I feel like I showed a decent hit tool, but not really a power tool. But growing into the power tool last year, and then being around Brady in Durham and Montgomery and the work we put in with (former Durham manager Jared) Sandberg and the guys in big-league camp defensively to make sure that part of my game was ready to go, it all kind of came together.’’
Getting to the majors proved to be only slightly harder than telling his parents the good news Sunday night.
Wendy and David were in Montgomery, Ala., to watch Josh, who is playing, and quite well, for the Double-A Biscuits, and already asleep in their room at the Hampton Inn.
Nate tried calling, but Wendy had her phone on airplane mode so he couldn’t get through to her.
Then he called the hotel, but the ringer on the phone in their room was turned off.
So then he called the hotel back, explained the situation, and asked them to knock on the door to their room. That woke them up, but didn’t help as Wendy didn’t want to open the door given that it was after midnight.
Nate asked the staff to try again: “I called the guy and I said ‘Hey, I’m going to the big leagues tomorrow. Knock the door down and tell my parents.’ ‘’
Finally the message was delivered. About 1:30 a.m., they finally called Nate back, shared the joy, and made their way to Kansas City for his debut. Nate later Face-Timed with Josh, who was obviously thrilled for him, and managed to make it to Monday’s game after playing in a matinee for the Biscuits. Messages of congrats from others queued up on his phone. There were plenty of hugs when Lowe came straight to the clubhouse Monday.
And a special welcome from Brandon Lowe, who figures to come out on the wrong side of this move as he had finally gotten fans and talking heads to pronounce his last name his way, as in WOW, whereas Nate (and Josh) prefer the traditional LOW.
“I’m hoping I got it in enough that they realize it and maybe they mess his name up a few times,’’ Brandon Lowe said. Operating on maybe 45 minutes of sleep, Nate said he’ll sort out his feelings later.
Monday was about playing the same game of baseball, albeit at the highest level there is.
“I’m excited,’’ he said. “No tears or anything. It’s just another step. But to be able to be here in the first place and be around these guys is something I’ve been looking forward to for a while. And here we are.”
Contact Marc Topkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.