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Rays still expect demoted Josh Lowe to be ‘really big part’ of 2022 success

Notes | Unexpected decision was the result of the rookie’s struggles and composition of the roster.
Josh Lowe hits a three-run home run against the Twins on Friday at Tropicana Field.
Josh Lowe hits a three-run home run against the Twins on Friday at Tropicana Field. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published May 3|Updated May 3

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Rays’ surprising decision to send top outfield prospect Josh Lowe back to Triple A was not because they have given up on him this season, or an acknowledgment they made a mistake in trading Austin Meadows to Detroit to create space for Lowe on the roster.

Rather, they say, it was a confluence of circumstances to make the team better now and Lowe in the near future.

Primarily, the issues were the need to carry a 14th pitcher — given heavy use of their bullpen in a stretch of playing 16 consecutive days — and the opportunity for Lowe to rebuild confidence in the minors after struggling for most of the first month, and balancing the infielders and outfielders as rosters were reduced Monday from 28 to 26.

“We think really, really highly of Josh still, and understand that he’s struggled a little bit but also don’t want to read too much into small sample sizes in any direction,” general manager Peter Bendix said before Monday’s game against the A’s.

“It’s part circumstances and part we just had to make a tough decision. It’s not what I would have predicted that we would have done at the beginning of the season, but we’re in this situation.

“We’re trying to make the best decision for the next couple of weeks. I think Josh will go down there, he’ll play every day, he’ll get back to being the player that we know he is and that he’s going to be a really big part of what we’re doing the rest of the season.”

Though Lowe, 24, had hits in his past four games, the rookie had a .188 average and .601 OPS for 19 games, with a team-high 27 strikeouts.

“I don’t think it’s the worst thing for Josh, for him to go down there and find his way a little bit,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Not that he lacked confidence at all, and he shouldn’t have after a month. Our view has not changed on him. But I think it’s more the norm when you see young players come up — it’s very normal to see some guys scuffle a tick and benefit from going back down.”

The other move to get down to the 26-man limit was designating pitcher Robert Dugger for assignment. Dugger drew Cash’s praise for working 5⅓ innings after being called up Sunday and saving other members of the bullpen.

The Wander wonder

Shortstop Wander Franco was back in the lineup and feeling well after missing Sunday’s game due to right hamstring tightness. Franco said he was “definitely a little bit frustrated” at having to sit out a game for the second time for a similar reason (April 18, right quad tightness). Cash, who suggested playing eight straight games on the Trop turf might have been a contributing factor, said they hope the day off helps and Franco will “be better for it.”

As for his bosses’ orders to monitor his workload, such as not running hard on balls that are routine outs? Franco is not a fan. “The coaches have said that to me, but (running hard) is definitely the way I’ve played since I was a kid, and that’s the form I’m going to play,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro.

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Miscellany

Ryan Yarbrough said he is over the groin tightness that sidelined him since the start of the season and is expected to either start or work behind an opener today. … Catcher Francisco Mejia, out since Sept. 21 after testing positive for COVID-19, was the DH for the extended spring team on Monday, will catch today and could then rejoin the Rays. … Coaches Stan Boroski, Paul Hoover, Matt Quatraro and Kyle Snyder remained at home, sidelined due to what the team called “COVID-related issues.” ... Brett Phillips was named April’s defensive player of the month by Sports Info Solutions. … On Monday the Rays wore their navy jerseys, which had been delayed in production, for the first time.

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