All-Stars Austin Meadows, Charlie Morton, Gerrit Cole find there’s life after Pirates
CLEVELAND — Austin Meadows made the trip to the All-Star Game on a private jet with his wife, Tampa Bay Rays teammates Brandon Lowe and Charlie Morton, and Morton’s wife and four kids.
It was hard to believe fewer than 14 months ago, Meadows was hitting .448 through his first seven major-league games and looking like the hope of the future — for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“It’s pretty crazy to be here,” said Meadows, one of three former Pirates on the American League All-Star team (joining pitchers Morton and Gerrit Cole). Meadows was traded to the Rays at the trade deadline last year, along with pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Shane Baz, for pitcher Chris Archer.
“It was a normal day at the park,” Meadows said, recalling the day he was sent to the Rays. “I was working out and found out I got traded (when bench coach Tom Prince called him and Glasnow into a private room).
“It was pretty crazy, seeing guys in the clubhouse that you might not ever see again. Guys you built relationships with, coaches, players, teammates.
“Just packing yourself up and they’re getting ready for a game and you’re leaving. I was off to Durham the next day (where he helped the team win the International League championship).
“You get traded for the first time, you’re kind of shocked. You think you’re going to be a part of that organization for a long time. It was a tough pill to swallow at first.
”For me, it was more exciting that the Rays wanted me. It was good to come over to a team that was rolling.”
At the All-Star break, the Rays (52-39) are leading the American League wild-card race.
Playing almost every day for the Rays, Meadows, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2013 draft, is hitting .289, with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. Pirates rookie outfielder Bryan Reynolds is hitting .342, with seven homers and 33 RBIs. In Pittsburgh, Meadows found himself the fourth outfielder behind Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco.
“To me, just being able to play every day, establish myself in the lineup, I think that’s really helped me perform at my highest level,” Meadows said.
Meanwhile, Morton and Cole have become two of the premier pitchers in the American League since leaving Pittsburgh.
Morton, an All-Star for the second consecutive year, spent seven years with the Pirates, compiling a 41-62 record through 2015 while dealing with a variety of injuries. He helped the Houston Astros win the World Series in 2017 before joining the Rays this season. He’s 40-13 since leaving Pittsburgh and leads the American League in ERA this season (2.32).
Cole leads the American League in strikeouts (170), throwing more four-seam fastballs than he did in Pittsburgh. He said he learned his curveball grip from A.J. Burnett.
Morton said he is more of a power pitcher these days.
“The style of pitching was different,” he said. “My goal in Pittsburgh was to get somebody to put the ball in play within three pitches or less and get them to put the ball on the ground. I did a really good job of that. But the results depended on where the ball was hit once it was on the ground and the quality of contact.
“That goal of three pitches or less, get the ball in play was kind of a coin flip. Because you’re hoping the ball is hit to a defender.”
He struck out 163 in 2017, 201 last year and 142 so far this season. The most he struck out with the Pirates was 126.
“I think I’m a better strikeout pitcher than a groundball pitcher in terms of the results,” he said.
But he said he doesn’t believe he’s a better pitcher because he’s no longer a Pirate.
“I think I was just a different pitcher in a different place. I find it really hard to assign blame. Ultimately, I’m the one who picks up the ball and throws it.”
Morton had high praise for Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage.
“Ray’s a good man,” Morton said. “We were there together through a lot of my failures and some challenges and we experienced some great times in Pittsburgh.
“We still keep in touch. I have nothing but love and respect for him. He was always making sure his guys were all right and squared away and had a good attitude and felt good about themselves. That’s something that’s really refreshing, to feel like my pitching coach cares just as much about me as a person as a pitcher. Everybody loves Ray, and there are some good reasons for it.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .