ST. PETERSBURG – Brandon Lowe started in rightfield Tuesday for the Rays, his first assignment of the season on the grass. No big deal, he was just happy to be playing.
Then he moved to second base after six innings. Didn’t matter, he is always willing to do whatever’s needed.
“Everywhere, he’s been valuable for us,’’ manager Kevin Cash said. “His bat keeps him in the lineup.’’
For good reason, as Lowe showed again Tuesday in the major-league best Rays’ 6-3 razing of Arizona, albeit before a season-low gathering of 8,059 announced at Tropicana Field.
Lowe crushed a homer to center on the first pitch from D’backs rookie starter Taylor Clarke, then knocked in another run on a hard-hit ball to first during a three-run seventh.
The homer was the team-high eighth of the season for Lowe, and his first leading off a game. The two runs he knocked in extended his Rays leading total to 22. He ran his hitting streak to 11 games (and 13 starts) and raised his average to .311.
“There’s a lot of things he does that helps us win,’’ Cash said. “He’s swinging a hot bat right now. It seems he comes up in big situations. Today it was leadoff. It seems like he really gets it done in those big situations.’’
“B-Low is the man,’’ said Jalen Beeks, who worked 3 1/3 innings for the win. “One swing and we’re up 1-0. One pitch. He’s hot, he’s rolling with it. Great guy. We love it when he does well. And we seem to play better when he’s going well.’’
Lowe’s versatility on defense gives Cash plenty of ways to keep that bat in the lineup.
“Being versatile certainly helps,’’ Cash said. ”Wherever we’ve asked him. He’s played tremendous defense at second base. First base I’ve actually been really encouraged, we’ve been encouraged with his play and his comfort. He’ll probably get some more reps as the season goes along.
“I know there hasn’t been a ton of outfield reps but we’re confident he did enough of that last year and in spring training where it’s kind of become second nature.’’
Lowe, who hit a huge ninth-inning homer in Kansas City on Thursday, has a similar approach to where he hits in the order by not changing anything.
“Same approach if I was hitting leadoff three-hole, five-hole, nine-hole wherever it is,’’ he said. “Same mindset.’’
The win improved the Rays’ major-league best record to 23-12, and marked their ninth series win against one loss (to Boston) and two splits (Kansas City and Baltimore). They’ll go for the sweep in Wednesday’s matinee with Charlie Morton on the mound.
The Rays got a solid group pitching effort Tuesday as opener Ryne Stanek went two innings and Beeks 3 1/3 with Chaz Roe, Diego Castillo, Emilio Pagan and Adam Kolarek taking it from there, though Kolarek allowed two homers in the ninth.
Striking in the first inning has been part of the Rays’ attack this season. Lowe’s leadoff homer, a high, arcing shot to center that carried an estimated 405 feet, marked the 21st time in 35 games they scored in the first inning, and their majors-most 32nd run, giving then an impressive 32-11 margin. It also was their 10th first-inning homer; they had only 15 all of last season.
“It makes it easier,’’ Lowe said. “Playing with a lead is so much easier than trying to come from behind. Hitting is contagious, so getting the first run out of the way proves we can get to this guy and helps keep everyone loose.”
The Diamondbacks came back to tie in the fourth when Adam Jones, the longtime Orioles star, led off with a single then scored on a two-out double by Nick Ahmed as Beeks was a strike away from getting out of the inning.
But the Rays went right back ahead with Yandy Diaz, who Monday snapped an 0-for-17 skid, laced a leadoff double StatCast estimated at nearly 110 mph. Nate Lowe followed with a single, third-base coach Rodney Linares wisely holding Diaz at third. He scored when Daniel Robertson grounded into a double play. The three runs in the seventh, keyed by a Mike Zunino double, opened a more comfortable margin, and the Rays added another in the eighth. Willy Adames, who has been struggling had a two-hit night.
The game opened well for the Rays as Stanek bounced back from a rough outing in Kansas City with two solid innings in his usual role as the primary opener. "Stanek set the tone for us,'' Cash said. Beeks was solid after thta, but with most of the bullpen well-rested and a day off coming Thursday, Cash opted to be aggressive in going to the pen in the sixth, and it worked out fine.
Lowe was the key to the night, and has been a big key to the season, even without much attention, at least before his AL Rookie of the Month award.
"I don’t think he is (getting much) either,'' Cash said. "But I’m sure if he keeps it up he’ll be getting plenty of it.''
Contact Marc Topkin at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.