ST. PETERSBURG — Brandon Lowe’s struggles had been growing, as had his frustration.
A slow start to the season had extended for more than two months, his .188 batting average second-lowest in the American League, his 76 strikeouts third-highest, his production against left-handers (4-for-63) nearly non-existent.
“It sucks,” he said on the field before Friday’s game, an 0-for-16 hanging over him. “I was starting to put a lot of stress on myself that I had to go 4-for-4 every single day or else I was never going to get out of this.”
Perspective helped, as Lowe constantly reminded himself it was a long season, with nearly 100 games to play. So did understanding from his wife, Madison, and ignorance from their dog, Collie, a mini bernedoodle. Persistence, too, as a constant and broad search for adjustments led to progress, he and hitting coach Chad Mottola finding something during Wednesday’s game that helped.
And a couple of hours later Friday, there was a payoff, as Lowe had the biggest hit in the American League-best Rays’ 4-2 win over the Orioles, a two-run homer in the fourth, off a lefty no less.
“Yeah, I mean, it felt great,” Lowe said.
Even better, manager Kevin Cash said, was that Lowe looked right in doing so.
“We know what he’s capable of,” Cash said. “We know that when he’s right, he can knock balls out of the ballpark to any spot in the stadium.
“That was a pitch that he hung in there on two strikes, got a fastball (it) looked kind of middle in and got the barrel to it, and it just carried. That swing and the way that ball carried looks like the Brandon when he’s right, that’s what he’s doing.”
Lowe said there was more to it, crediting Mike Brosseau for working a 10-pitch at-bat before him so he could get a good look at Orioles lefty Keegan Akin working out of the stretch.
Lowe also made an adjustment, though he didn’t describe it, during the fourth-inning at-bat, when, with the Rays down 2-1 and a man on third and one out, he wasn’t even thinking home run.
“In the offseason, we really work on trying to own your swing and understand what could be going wrong when it does go wrong,” Lowe said. “And something just kind of clicked right before that pitch. I was like, ‘Let me try this.’ And it kind of worked for the rest of the game.”
As pleased as Lowe was with the homer, his 11th overall and third off a lefty, the single he blooped to the opposite field the next at-bat may have been more encouraging, given the bad luck he and the Rays felt he was hitting with.
“He needs some balls to fall for him,” Cash said. “A lot of hitters do. And when times are tough, those little things can help you feel a little bit better about your swing, about yourself.”
It was a good night overall for the Rays, who won for the 21st time in 26 games and became the first team in the majors to 40 wins at 40-26.
The Rays got their first run in part because catcher Mike Zunino moved up to third on a wild pitch, then scored on an infield out. They got their fourth when Kevin Kiermaier got his second hit of the night and scored on Manuel Margot’s single.
Ryan Yarbrough didn’t match his complete game performance from his last outing but gave the Rays six solid innings, allowing two unearned runs — after his error covering first extended the third inning and Trey Mancini homered — to win back-to-back starts for the first time in his career. The bullpen put up three more zeroes.
But the biggest gain for the Rays was potentially getting back the Lowe they know, and need.
“In the midst of the swing, everything feels good when it comes off like that,” Lowe said. “But going back and being able to look at the video and stuff like that, it definitely looked (like) I was more direct to the ball. I felt cleaner. Everything felt really good for that swing. Hopefully we can build on (Friday).”
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