ST. PETERSBURG — After the club’s worst three-city road trip in eight seasons, the Rays are hoping for a new Lowe.
Josh Lowe, that is.
When the Rays returned to Tropicana Field for Monday night’s 4-2 loss to the Yankees, Lowe was back in leftfield after spending 36 games at Triple-A Durham.
Lowe went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, a walk and an eighth-inning shot to the centerfield wall that was a few feet away from a game-tying home run.
“The No. 1 (adjustment) was going down to Durham and taking a breath,” said Lowe, who hit .299 (41-for-137) with six home runs and 35 RBIs for the Bulls. “It was realizing it’s the same game I’ve played for a long time.
“I think it was a blessing in disguise, for sure. Nobody wants to get optioned. It’s the big leagues and everybody wants to stay here for as long as they can and make a career out of it. So I’m thankful for the opportunity to come back and I’m ready to help this team.”
The Rays depended on Lowe to fill an offensive gap following the trade of former All-Star Austin Meadows to the Tigers. At the time of that trade, Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander described Lowe as “a very dynamic talent” with “the potential to be an All-Star player.”
But Lowe started slowly, batting just .188 with one homer and six RBIs in 19 games before being optioned on May 1. Lowe struck out 42.2 percent of the time (27 strikeouts in 64 at-bats).
Lowe said he largely enjoyed the stay in Durham. With the help of hitting coaches Will Bradley (Durham) and Chad Mottola (Rays), Lowe said he discovered a flaw. His hips were drifting a bit.
“Once I was able to stop that and stay within my body, I picked right back up where I left off last year,” said Lowe, who batted .291 with 22 homers, 78 RBIs, 26 steals and a .916 OPS at Durham last season.
Obviously, if Lowe fulfills his potential, it would be a boon to a Rays lineup that was shut out five times in the past 36 games and scored just 29 runs during the 2-7 road trip.
“We’re certainly excited to have him back. We don’t want to put added pressure on him that he has got to be the guy,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We need a bunch of guys to take part in getting our offense going.”
Lowe said he has watched the Rays from afar. Recent struggles haven’t diminished his belief in the club’s abilities.
“I think it’s just kind of remembering it’s a long year,” he said. “You have ups and downs. Don’t get too low, don’t get too high. Rely on your teammates when things are going the way you don’t want. Just have them boost you back up.”
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Lowe acknowledged that he might have put too much pressure on himself when the season began. Now it’s a different story, one that he believes will have a happy ending. With Monday night’s injuries to outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot, it probably ensures Lowe’s spot in the everyday lineup.
“Now I think I have more to prove to myself more than anything,” Lowe said. “I know I belong here and I’m going to be here for a long time, so I’m really excited to put that on display and help get this club going in the right direction.”
Lowe, 24, said he feels like he’s back in a good routine. That, along with advice from family and friends, has put him on the proper course.
“It was good to hear from everybody that they all knew I’d be back and I knew that, too,” he said. “The message (from the Rays) was kind of ‘We need some more arms (pitching) … go back and get right.’ When I come back, I’ll be ready to go.
“That was the message. I felt like I handled that pretty well, went down there and took care of business. Now I’m back, ready to go.”
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