3/1/2014 5:00 P.M. ET
Lowe encouraged by natural fit with Rays
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Mark Lowe signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training on Nov. 20, because the veteran right-hander saw the Rays as a good fit.
"I think that was a big reason why I chose to sign here," Lowe said. "I feel like I fit well in the environment; I feel like I'll get the most out of myself as a baseball player in this laid back environment."
The veteran right-hander is 8-20 with a 4.17 ERA in 264 Major League games spread over parts of eight seasons with the Mariners, Rangers and Angels. He is one of many candidates hoping to earn a spot in what appears to be a deep bullpen. A situation that grew more competitive after he signed.
"We took a look at every team, every situation before we signed, and this was the best fit and Cleveland was another one," Lowe said. "Those were the two teams that pushed the hardest for me.
"That was before Heath [Bell] was over here and [Grant] Balfour. So there were quite a few spots open when I signed. Things have unfolded, there's less spots. Just do what I can do. If it happens, it happens. I'd like it to happen. But I go about my business the same way."
Lowe made his first appearance of the spring Saturday against the Pirates and, save for an opposite-field home run he surrendered to Russell Martin, all went well. Martin's hit proved to be the only blemish on his one-inning line that included a strikeout.
"Everything felt good today," Lowe said. "Just made one bad pitch that kind of ran across the middle of the plate."
Lowe didn't take the easy out when a reporter noted that the wind was blowing hard to right field. Instead, he smiled and said, "I don't think it had an effect on that ball."
Rays manager Joe Maddon likes having Lowe in camp and has been impressed with him thus far.
"Really good," Maddon said. "He's somebody we tried really hard to get last year, and we lost and he went somewhere else. Watching him right now, the slider's an incredibly good pitch. He's working on a cutter. We liked him for a while, so I'm eager to see [what he does]. This guy's a Major League pitcher and he he's got a lot going for him."
Forsythe, Nix train to become ultimate utility men
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Count Logan Forsythe and Jayson Nix among the many utility candidates in camp this spring.
Forsythe came to the Rays in a trade with the Padres on Jan. 22, while Nix signed a Minor League deal with the team on Jan. 14 with an invite to Spring Training.
Both were in the Rays' lineup Saturday against the Pirates, as Forsythe played third and Nix played shortstop. Rays manager Joe Maddon said neither will begin playing the outfield just yet, though the position is in each of their respective skill sets.
"I think Logan, we're talking about keeping him on the infield a little bit right now, as well as Nix before we put them both out there," Maddon said.
Both players have already begun taking fly balls in the outfield, but they are fine with the gradual process of getting prepared to play the outfield in games.
"First, I kind of want to get my feet wet in the infield, get my rhythm there first," said Nix, who carries five gloves for playing first, second base, shortstop, third base and the outfield. "But I think pretty soon, I'll start working out there more. I've already gotten some work out there at camp. The next week or two, I'll start working out there.
"... The rhythm of defense during Spring Training is important, to be able to get that rhythm. ... Bottom line is, if they tell me to go out there, I'm going out there. But I think I'll be out there sooner than later."
Forsythe has four gloves: one for first base, one for the middle infield positions, one for third base and one for the outfield.
"You definitely want to get comfortable in the infield first," Forsythe said. "Our primary positions are in the infield, so we want to make sure our footwork and our angles and everything are right first before we jump into the outfield and start taking fly balls out there.
"... You ease into each position. With the games beginning now, we're going to be moving around -- the guys who play multiple positions. We'll be in one position one day and another the next, but they're really good about it here. They let us know in advance."
The makeup of this season's bench will be a difficult and complex decision based on the number of players in camp who play multiple positions. Maddon noted that he is eager to see both Forsythe and Nix play all of the positions they play to get an idea about where he's comfortable using them.
"We want to see all that," Maddon said. "You just don't know how it's all going to work out, what the bench is going to look like exactly."
The idea is to have a flexible group that allows Maddon to plug in players at different positions on different nights to maximize the matchups against opposing pitchers.
"The tough left-handed pitcher on a particular night," Maddon said. "You have a fly-ball pitcher pitching, there's a ground-ball pitcher pitching. For us, there are different reasons why you do different things. And if this guy's comfortable doing different things, like a Logan Forsythe, then you don't even hesitate to make these particular moves.
"Then again, it's Spring Training. Sometimes you find out guys are uncomfortable doing certain things. It's just a matter of getting them out there and kind of researching it a little bit and see what we have."
Maddon said that using Forsythe and Nix in the outfield will be more of a situation to expand the bench at the end of the game, rather than starting them in the outfield.
"Injuries occur, different things happen," Maddon said. "Who knows, but more than likely [both are] being groomed more for the in-game moves as opposed to starting out there."
Forsythe said his use just depends on how the game goes.
"The matchups, the bullpen, late-inning games, how Joe moves his guys around," Forsythe said. "Guys like us who play multiple positions, if we can help the team win, they're going to throw us out there if they're comfortable with us."
Nix is ready for use wherever Maddon sees fit, even the outfield in late-inning situations.
"That's something I've done the last couple of years, and I'm comfortable with it," Nix said.
However, Nix does not yet have a catcher's mitt among his collection of gloves.
"Not yet, but I probably ought to get one of those working," Nix joked.
Meanwhile, Forsythe noted that not all of his gloves are broken in just yet. When a visitor noted that he could wear himself out breaking in those gloves, Forsythe smiled.
"I'll get someone else to do that for me," Forsythe said.
• Evan Longoria will enter 2014 within striking distance of a number of franchise records. His 162 home runs are one shy of Carlos Pena's club record and his 544 RBIs are 48 shy of Carl Crawford's mark. He also trails Crawford's team records for doubles (by 15) and extra-base hits (51).
• According to Maddon, Wil Myers is the team's No. 4 catcher behind starters Ryan Hanigan, Jose Molina and utility man Sean Rodriguez. "It's a grudge match between him and Rodriguez," Maddon said. "[Myers] said he could do it. Listen, if it got down to that, we'd have Sean do that first, then him. We actually have four catchers, so we feel pretty comfortable with that in the latter part of the game."
• Ben Zobrist [lower back tightness] is getting closer to resuming full activity. "He's doing really well," said Maddon, who noted that the team's head athletic trainer, Ron Porterfield, gave Zobrist a glowing report. "... He seems to be in pretty good order. I was watching him swing yesterday, looked really good, there was nothing being held back. He was in the dugout the whole game, really chirpy. If guys don't feel good, they don't do that. So he's in pretty good order right now."
Maddon speculated that Zobrist could see action in a game by Monday or Tuesday.
• So far, 62 of 64 players invited to camp have reported. Right-hander Juan Carlos Oviedo and infielder Wilson Betemit are still dealing with visa issues. Only once in the previous eight seasons (since 2006) have the Rays invited more players -- in '13, they invited 66 due to the World Baseball Classic. Major League camp includes players from eight different countries -- the United States, Australia, Canada, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, South Korea, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico.
• The Rays will be presented with the 2014 Dream Maker Award by the Children's Dream Fund at their annual Dream Maker Luncheon on March 4 at 11:30 at the Floridan Palace Hotel in Tampa. The team began its involvement with the Children's Dream Fund in 1997.
• In six seasons since changing its name to the Rays, the team is 550-423, the second-best record in the Major Leagues behind the Yankees (564-408).
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.