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Pirates send Austin Meadows to Indianapolis

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, July 15, 2018, 1:09 p.m.
The Pirates sent outfielder Austin Meadows back to AAA Indianapolis on Sunday, July 15, 2018.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Pirates sent outfielder Austin Meadows back to AAA Indianapolis on Sunday, July 15, 2018.

Austin Meadows, who hasn’t started for the Pirates since July 8, said Sunday morning he has spent time in the batting cage getting ready for his next opportunity. About an hour after he said that, he found out that chance will come in Indianapolis.

Meadows, who was hitting .404 on June 2 after his first 14 games in the majors, was optioned to Indianapolis Sunday. Meadows, 23, recently has simultaneously lost playing time and points off his batting average. He hadn’t been in the starting lineup since going 1 for 4 on July 8 and has only 10 at-bats with two hits in the past eight games (seven Pirates victories).

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the move could have been made earlier, but he didn’t want to leave the bench short during the current stretch of nine games in eight days. He said Meadows’ promotion in May was partially tied to an injury to Starling Marte.

“When we brought Austin up, it was Starling Marte was going to be down seven days to two weeks,” he said. “Austin was our best defensive option in center field, had been doing some nice things with the bat. We felt like he was probably just on the front side of the readiness curve.

“Then Austin went out there and hit like Babe Ruth. So, for an extended period of time, we were able to go with a four outfielder rotation and allow Corey Dickerson to catch his breath, because he had played more than he had played in a long time. It allowed us to continue to give Starling a breather now and again, allow his side to get healthy, and it allowed Gregory Polanco a chance to get his feet back on the ground, performance-wise.

“We had talked from the beginning, Austin wasn’t a fourth outfielder. It was not in his best interest our our best interests to serve as a fourth outfielder. So, once the rotation stopped, because those three starters were really producing again, it became time to try to get him out.”

Huntington said the team faced the same dilemma with Polanco when he was first brought to the majors in 2014.

“For about 11 days to two weeks, Gregory was Babe Ruth, then scuffled the next two months and I left him on the club.

“You could easily argue that if I had taken him off the club and let him go play regularly instead of being a role-player behind Travis Snider, we might have seen Gregory turn the corner quicker.

“I watched Grady Sizemore come up and struggle with Cleveland, get optioned out, come back and never go back. That’s our goal with Austin.”

Asked why Jordan Luplow, who was called up from the minors several weeks after Meadows, was playing over his Indianapolis teammate, Huntington gave a practical answer.

“The best and easiest answer to that is we’re in a win-now mode. We’re fighting for our playoff lives,” he said. Luplow homered twice Saturday.

Meadows’ move off the Pirates’ roster at this time also could delay his future (Super 2) free agency status. Huntington said that wasn’t a consideration.

“It’s inexact,” he said. “We don’t know if 2 1/2 years from now he’ll be a Super 2 or not. We don’t know the number of days. It’s not our focus.”

Although he surely will return later this season, Meadows leaves with a .298 average, five home runs and 13 RBI. He recorded four of those homers and eight of those RBIs in his first 14 games.

His slash line for the season is .333 (on-base percentage), 477 (slugging) and .810 (on- base, plus slugging).

“For me, I’m working on some things right now,” he said before the Pirates announced his demotion. “That’s all I can do. Just in the cage … just trying to find my swing, working the cage off the machine, seeing some velocity in the cage.”

Meadows will get a chance to play this week when the Indians go to Gwinnett (Ga.) during the MLB All-Star break. But he said he preferred to stay with the Pirates, even with occasional at-bats.

“Obviously, I’m not playing as much as I’d like to,” he said. “But for me I like being here. I think anybody would say that, rather be here in the big leagues than in Triple-A, no matter the case. “I’m healthy in the big leagues. It’s still an honor.”

When Meadows’ bat was hot, he was part of manager Clint Hurdle’s four-man outfield rotation with veterans Corey Dickerson, Startling Marte and Gregory Polanco. But Hurdle has no intentions of breaking up the 2-3 punch in the batting order recently provided by Marte and Polanco.

Polanco has homered in each of the past three games and has raised his batting average 35 points to .235 since June 16. Marte is hitting .355 in the past eight games. He shares the National League lead in stolen bases with the Washington Nationals’ Michael Taylor (24). Dickerson is hitting .304, with seven homers and 35 RBI. Dickerson hit a two-run homer in the third inning Sunday.

To take Meadows’ place on the roster, the Pirates recalled Tanner Anderson from Triple-A. Clayton Holmes, the 26th man brought up for Saturday’s doubleheader, was sent to Indianapolis.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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