How Josh Lowe’s latest injury scrambles the Rays’ outfield plans

BRADENTON — Josh Lowe will not be on the Rays’ opening day roster. Just as the outfielder was preparing to come back from a hip issue, he suffered a “mild” strain of his right oblique and has been shut down again. He will not do any baseball activities for the next five to seven days.

“He tweaked his oblique,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Sunday. “We were kind of excited about him coming back, but then two days ago he said that he felt something. We got an MRI (Saturday) ... and we saw what they called a Grade I, very mild, minor strain. He’ll be shut down for a little while.”

That’s a big blow for Lowe, who had a breakout season in 2023, and it puts the Rays’ outfield plans in a jam. Lowe was not only expected to platoon in rightfield with Amed Rosario, but he was the primary backup to Jose Siri in centerfield.

“I think it could be a candidate list of everybody on the roster. Whether it’s Rosie, Randy (Arozarena) ... Siri is going to play a lot; we need to kind of bubble wrap up and hope that (he stays healthy),” Cash said. " (Richie) Palacios can pop out there. … So Randy might be back out there (Monday) in center.”

Palacios, acquired from the Cardinals last offseason, came into camp fighting for a roster spot behind Jonny DeLuca. But DeLuca broke his hand during the Rays’ trip to the Dominican Republic and now with Lowe out of the lineup at least until the second or third week of the season, Palacios seems to be a lock for the opening day roster.

“I feel like I’ve put some good swings together and I am playing good defense,” Palacios said. “(But) we’ve still got a lot of spring games going. So it’s not over. I just continually try to build every day with wherever that position is for me. So I’m working on all positions to get better.”

So far, the Rays have been impressed.

After picking up some bat speed by working at Driveline in the winter, Palacios has shown offensive improvement this spring with two home runs in 11 games. The Rays just need Palacios to improve on his career .635 OPS against right-handers.

“I think he’s done a good job. He gives very competitive, good at-bats. He’s driven the ball really, really well,” Cash said. “He’s worked hard on ... his swing this offseason. It’s nice to see early results. And in the versatility at second base and outfield ... Look, as we’re built right now, it’s tough to see him getting in at second but another injury and then you’re bringing that into the fold. He’ll continue to work on the defense in the outfield to be the best outfielder he can be (which) will help out his opportunities.”

Palacios has started 44 games in the outfield over two big-league seasons. He has started seven in center and played two in rightfield. The Brooklyn native went 1-for-2 with a single Sunday and is scheduled to start Monday’s spring game against the Braves in center.

Rosario actually has played 18 games (starting 14) in centerfield over his seven seasons in the majors.

Lowe will miss at least the first 10 days of the season even though it is considered a mild strain of the oblique.

“We caught it before it became something major,” Cash said. “It’s a similar timeline to (Shane) Baz.”

Baz was pushed back about a week with the issue. Still, the Rays will have to be careful ramping Lowe back up and he already was behind.

Lowe had just four spring training at-bats before he was shut down last month with hip inflammation. He was ramping back up when he felt his right side muscles tighten up on him. It generally takes a major-league hitter at least 30 at-bats to feel ready.

In 135 games last season, Lowe hit .292 with 20 home runs and 32 stolen bases. Defensively, Lowe was very solid. He made just two errors, racking up six defensive runs saved in rightfield.

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