Pirates calling up top prospect Austin Meadows
The Pirates are preparing for an extended stretch of games without Starling Marte, and they did something about it Thursday night.
Austin Meadows, the team's No. 1 draft choice (ninth overall) in 2013, will be recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis to replace Marte, who has an injured right oblique. Marte hasn't been put on the disabled list officially, but that could happen Friday.
Meadows, 23, is hitting .294 (37 for 126) with 10 doubles, one home run, 15 RBIs, 20 runs scored and eight stolen bases this season at Indianapolis. He also hit safely in each of his past seven games, going 13 for 33 (.394) with four doubles and seven RBIs.
Meadows, who has played 30 games in center field this season, never has played in the major leagues.
He was slowed last season by two injuries: strains to his right hamstring and oblique. Meadows played in 81 games, 72 with Indianapolis, where he hit four home runs with 36 RBIs and a .250 batting average.
Meadows entered last season as the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, according to Baseball America. He is No. 2 this season and also was rated as the "Best Athlete" in the organization.
Marte, whose .308 batting average ranks second among Pirates regulars, injured his oblique swinging Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox.
Sean Rodriguez started in center field Wednesday against the White Sox and Thursday against the San Diego Padres, but Pirates manager Clint Hurdle prefers to use him as a utilityman.
Asked what he likes about Rodriguez in center field, Hurdle mentioned "defensive reliability, an accurate throwing arm, lateral movement, range."
"I don't want to put him in a position where he has to play it two straight weeks," Hurdle said. "I don't think that would be healthy for him or healthy for us.
"However, in a pocket of games, you saw him run around out there the other day. He looks graceful. He looks like he's played there a lot."
Actually, Rodriguez trotted onto the field for his 1,022nd career game Thursday against the Padres, but only 23 of them have been in center field. Wednesday against the Chicago White Sox was the first time he played a complete game there.
That doesn't soften Rodriguez's enthusiasm for the position, however.
"I love it, definitely my favorite position," he said before the game. "You can see all the action, and you feel there's going to be more action there.
"I'm just glad Clint knows he can trust me out there."
The Pirates apparently couldn't wait for Marte to recover, especially with two games separating the top four teams in the NL Central and 13 games in 13 days upcoming against division rivals, starting Tuesday in Cincinnati.
"We're doing a series of tests (on Marte) in the training room," Hurdle said. "We'll see if there's any opportunity to get him to move around." If the Pirates aren't sure when Marte can "move around," they can't trust him to chase balls in center field and two gaps. They also would prefer a regular center fielder, such as Meadows, over Rodriguez, who has played every position on the field other than pitcher and catcher.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli returned to the lineup and batted third after he was hit by a pitch Tuesday and missed Wednesday with a bruise on his right forearm.
In five career games (two starts) in that spot in the order before Thursday, Cervelli is 4 for 10 with three RBIs.
David Freese started at third base for the second consecutive game, but Hurdle said it had nothing to do with giving Colin Moran a day off.
"It's giving David one more shot against a left-hander (the Padres' Eric Lauer), get jump-started, get things back going," Hurdle said.
"He's hit left-handers his entire career, not so much right now."
Freese has a .299 career batting average against left-handers, .182 this season.
"Colin's been getting the bulk of the playing time," Hurdle said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.