ST. PETERSBURG – The Rays will be without one of their best hitters for at least a month.
A day after placing second baseman Brandon Lowe on the 10-day injured list, Tampa Bay announced Tuesday afternoon that Lowe was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his lower back. Lowe will be shut down from baseball activities, limited to rest and rehabilitation work, for three weeks before he’s re-evaluated. At that point, the Rays should gain some clarity on when Lowe can return to the field and establish a timeline for his return to their lineup.
Losing Lowe, who hit a team-leading five homers in his first 32 games, leaves a big hole in a scuffling Rays lineup that’s already without hot-hitting outfielder Manuel Margot (strained right hamstring). The left-handed-hitting 27-year-old slugged a career-high 39 homers with 99 RBIs last season, and he’s been Tampa Bay’s most valuable player by Wins Above Replacement each of the past two years.
“It’s a hit, there’s no doubt,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s a big part of our club.”
Lowe figures to be sidelined for at least a month – “I’m hoping not too much longer than that,” he said – depending on how he recovers over the next three weeks and how much time it takes for him to get back to being game-ready when he’s cleared to resume baseball activities. While he’s out, the Rays will mix and match at second base, with most of the work expected to go to a pair of young switch-hitters: Vidal Bruján, Tampa Bay’s No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, and Taylor Walls.
“That’s tough. “Never want to see somebody go down, especially somebody that means as much to this team as he does,” Walls said. “His bat isn’t replaceable, but there’s a lot of guys ready to step up and ready for that chance and ready for the opportunity.”
Lowe said he was “frustrated and disappointed” to land on the injured list, but he was relieved to receive a clear diagnosis after visiting a doctor on Monday. His lower back has felt tight and stiff since Spring Training, he said, and it became more of an issue over the past few weeks.
Lowe said the injury became difficult to play through when the Rays were in Seattle from May 5-9, as he felt it flare up on every swing at the plate and every diving attempt in the field, and admitted to being in “a lot of pain ”against the Blue Jays over the weekend.
“I did not want to take at-bats that weren’t 100 percent,” Lowe said. “I want to be able to give these guys everything I have, and just going up there and not being able to swing and do what I can do – it was frustrating. I’m glad to know what it is and to be able to come back and get back to that 100 percent mark. … Pressing it and pushing it past the mark isn’t a smart thing to do. So hopefully we caught it at the right time, and we’re going to have no more issues with it. “
The Rays know they can not replace Lowe’s power potential from within, but they will see if Bruján and Walls can provide a different dynamic with their speed and versatility. Walls will likely get more work at second base after bouncing around the infield early on this season, and Cash said Bruján will receive a “pretty good lane here to go play.”
Bruján, 24, is most comfortable at second base but can play around the infield and outfield. He entered Tuesday with only three hits in 21 at-bats in the Majors this year, but Cash noted that the quality of his at-bats has improved since his first callup of the season. He has already proven his potential in the Minors, batting .267 / .353 / .443 with 50 steals in 119 games for Triple-A Durham over the past two years.
“It’s sad news to hear that [Lowe] went down. You never want a teammate to go down, ”he said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Having this opportunity here, I feel like I can be a piece that can help fill in for him.”
Infielder Isaac Paredes, who was recalled to take Lowe’s spot on Monday, should also factor into the infield mix moving forward, especially against left-handed pitchers. Paredes admitted he’s more comfortable at third base, but he could play second if needed.
“I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity,” Paredes said through Navarro. “I’m going to be grateful for it and just help the team whatever way I can.”