Austin Meadows Forces Pittsburgh Pirates to Keep him

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Austin Meadows

When the Pittsburgh Pirates promoted outfielder Austin Meadows last week, it was expected to be a short-term move. The Pirates brought up Meadows from Indianapolis to replace center fielder Starling Marte who was placed on the 10-day disabled list with an oblique injury.

However, Meadows had other plans. In seven games, the former ninth overall pick in the 2013 draft batted .448 with 13 hits in 29 at bats, including three homers, two doubles and five RBI. His OPS was 1.345. Meadows was also impressive in the field, showing off a nice arm along with good instincts.

Meadows, who had been hampered by injuries in recent years, showed up for Spring Training this year healthy, and he had a solid camp. But the general consensus was he needed a year of seasoning at Indianapolis before he’d be ready for the majors.

Bucs plan four-man outfield rotation to keep Austin Meadows in lineup

However, Meadows changed those assumptions with his blazing start last week. In fact, he played so well that he forced the Pirates to keep him when they reactivated Marte on Saturday. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle announced he’s going with a four-man rotation in the outfield with Meadows expected to see considerable action along with Marte, left fielder Corey Dickerson and right fielder Gregory Polanco.

Polanco’s play presents problems for Pirates

Marte and Dickerson have gotten off to good starts this year batting .313 and .313 respectively. However, Polanco has been very disappointing with a .205 batting average. The problem for the Pirates is that Polanco has to play. He’s under contract through 2021 for $29 million. He also has buyouts worth $4-million for the following two years.

With no team willing to take on that hefty contract, he’s basically un-tradeable at least until he starts performing better. And there’s no way the Pirates, who watch every penny they spend, would release him. It would tough enough for the Pirates to pay Polanco so much money to be a bench player.

So for now anyway expect Polanco to see a lot of playing time in right field, even if it’s at the expense of playing time for Meadows as happened Saturday when they sat down the rookie outfielder.

Polanco is too up and down for Bucs

At times Polanco has lived up to the high expectations that accompanied him when he came to the majors in 2014 as a top-level prospect. But he’s also had severe prolonged slumps which has put a damper on those high hopes.

Last year, Polanco was batting .387 in July when he went on the disabled list with a pulled hamstring. He returned on August first but batted only .125 before going back on the disabled list August 13th. Polanco returned on September eighth but only batted .214 the rest of the season.

He ended the season with a .251 batting average and only 11 homers and 35 RBI in 379 at-bats.

Polanco starts season strong but then cools off

He was healthy this spring and got off to a hot start, batting .310 in the team’s first six games with three homers, four doubles and 13 RBI. But he went into another slump, getting only 10 hits in his next 79 at bats with one homer and one RBI while striking out 22 times.

Polanco, however, followed that with another hot streak, getting 15 hits in his next 48 at-bats while hitting two homers and driving in six runs. But that was short-lived as he’s only got one hit in his last 24 at bats with 10 strikeouts.

How long can Bucs stick with Polanco?

So, how long with the Pirates can afford to play Polanco, especially when they’re a surprising 28-24 and only five games behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the National League’s Central Division?

Will Polanco hit another hot streak? Will Meadows cool off? Can the Pirates find enough playing time to keep their four outfielders sharp and ready as the season rolls along. We’ll find out in the coming months ahead. Nothing less than the fate of the 2018 season for the Bucs is on the line.

Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams in a slump

Meanwhile, talking about streaks, Pirates starting pitcher Trevor William’s season is veering off course. His 2.15 earned run average has ballooned to 3.43 over his last six starts. During that time he’s given up 17 runs in 33 innings. In his last two starts, he’s given up eight earned runs in 10 innings, including four in four frames against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. The Pirates need him to get back to form, the sooner the better.

Pirates pitcher Tyler Glasnow turning his season around

On the other end, though, the highly touted Tyler Glasnow is on a hot streak. After failing in starting stints the last two seasons, he was relegated to the bullpen this year. He got off to a shaky start there, but has pitched well recently, giving up only one run in his last six outings, covering 11 innings. During that time he has struck out 14 batters while only walking two.

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Mark O'Keefe, 66, is a lifelong follower and fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. A 1976 graduate of Penn State University with a degree in journalism, O'Keefe worked in the newspaper business as a sportswriter, reporter and editor for 46 years, starting as a sports stringer while a high school senior. A native of Monaca in Beaver County, he's lived in Uniontown, Pa. for the past 37 years.

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