Healthy again, Rays’ Brandon Lowe has a lot to play for

PORT CHARLOTTE — The pain from Brandon Lowe’s back injuries and broken right kneecap has long subsided.

But a sting remains.

Being limited to 174 games over the past two seasons, while also having his production hampered at times when he did play, understandably has caused ample frustration.

“The numbers have been there every single time that I am on the field,” Lowe said. “So the biggest thing I guess now is to figure out what I’ve got to do to make sure that … I’m out there available for 162 (games), and make the decision tough on (manager Kevin Cash) whether he plays me or not.”

The missed time — as a result of a stress reaction (a precursor to a stress fracture) in his lower back in 2022, followed by back inflammation and the freak result of a foul ball off his knee last season — also plays into a question about Lowe’s future.

The lefty slugger is heading into the final guaranteed season of the six-year, $24 million deal he signed during spring training 2019, making a team position player-high $8.75 million this season (and $23 million total), which means the Rays will decide what comes next.

They hold an option for 2025, either paying him $10.5 million to stay, or giving him a $1 million buyout and a push into free agency. The Rays also hold another option for 2026 at $11.5 million, or a $500,000 buyout.

Lowe, who turns 30 in July, said he plans to focus on what he can somewhat control — staying healthy and putting up big numbers as he did in 2020-21 — and not worry about what he can’t, banking that it leads to the chance to stay with the only team he’s known.

“I’ll do what I can,” Lowe said. “But, I mean, it’s out of my hands. It’s their option, it’s not my option. So if they want to pick it up, they pick it up. If they don’t, I don’t know.

“It’s a thing that, hopefully, I put myself in a good enough position to where it’s a no-brainer. But I’m going to focus on being healthy and being out there on the field.”

When Lowe has been able to do that, he has been one of the game’s top offensive second basemen.

“When he’s healthy, he gets MVP votes,” Cash said. “A really talented player, a super talented hitter.”

Lowe was an All-Star and finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2019, though he was limited to 82 games due to leg injuries. The next two seasons, he was a top-10 finisher in the American League MVP voting. He posted an .870 OPS over that three-year stretch, with a career-high 39 homers and 99 RBIs in 2021.

“I feel as good as I did in ’21,” he said. “So I’ve just got to stay on the field like I did in ‘21 (playing 149 games; his only season over 109) and we should be all set.”

The Rays don’t need Lowe to be in the starting lineup every day. Given his overall production versus lefty pitchers (.721 OPS), and a notable drop last season (.512 OPS compared to .814 vs. right-handers), they could opt for somewhat of a platoon at second. (It’s probably not a coincidence that recently signed infielder Amed Rosario has strong splits the other way, with an .806 career OPS vs. lefties and .670 vs. righties.)

Cash said the injuries have been Lowe’s main issue.

“It’s definitely health,” he said. “It’s been two years (with) the inconsistency of getting him on the field. He’s had some freakish accidents — the stress fracture in the back; he fouls a ball off his kneecap last year at the end.

“Some of those you just can’t avoid. It’s not for him not doing what he needs to do to keep his body in the lineup. He’s just had some bad accidents that have come up. Most of the injuries are. It’s easy for us to say, ‘Well, he’s always hurt.’ He plays hard, so it’s going to happen sometimes.”

Lowe said the experience has been educational, joking his goal now was to “do what I can do to not inflict pain on myself.”

While the broken knee cap with random, Lowe said he did realize through the back injury and other issues that he needs to take more care of his body.

“I’m not as young as I once was,” said Lowe, who turns 30 in July. “Honestly, it’s being (at) the point of, do what you’ve got to do for prep work. If you’ve got to be at the field for an extra hour, you have to be at the field for an extra hour. Put in the work in the training room and in the weight room to make sure that you go out there and feel your best.

“It stinks, but it’s a learning experience. Hopefully those injuries are good and gone, and we can not talk about them anymore.”

By the end of this season, there will be more important things to talk about.

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