PITTSBURGH -- After relegating him to the bench for a week, the Pirates optioned rookie outfielder Austin Meadows to Triple-A Indianapolis before Sunday's 7-6 walk-off win against the Brewers at PNC Park.The move was not surprising based on recent events. Meadows' last start was on July 8, and the Pirates began
PITTSBURGH -- After relegating him to the bench for a week, the Pirates optioned rookie outfielder Austin Meadows to Triple-A Indianapolis before Sunday's 7-6 walk-off win against the Brewers at PNC Park.
The move was not surprising based on recent events. Meadows' last start was on July 8, and the Pirates began using Jordan Luplow as their fourth outfielder after recalling him from Triple-A on July 6. Luplow has started three games since Meadows was last in the lineup on July 8 and hit two homers in Pittsburgh's 6-2 win over Milwaukee on Saturday.
When Meadows stopped getting regular playing time in Pittsburgh, it was only a matter of time before he was optioned to play every day in Triple-A. If anything, general manager Neal Huntington admitted, it probably should have happened earlier this week.
"The move probably happened two or three days later than ideally it would have. Once he stopped playing regularly, it would have been the best time to get him out," Huntington said. "But we needed to leave ourselves some flexibility to get through the doubleheader [on Saturday]."
The Bucs recalled reliever Tanner Anderson from Triple-A Indianapolis to take Meadows' spot on the active roster. This is Anderson's second stint with the Pirates this season.
The Pirates called up Meadows on May 18, and he started off hot enough to earn National League Rookie of the Month honors despite playing only 13 games in May. He cooled down over the last three weeks, however, hitting .204/.259/.245 in 54 plate appearances over 19 games (10 starts).
"Really excited about what he did, especially that first week. The past month hasn't been as productive, and it's tough to ask a young player to not play," Huntington said. "It's in his best interest and our best interest to continue to grow and develop."
Still, Meadows has put together impressive overall numbers. He headed to Indianapolis slashing .298/.333/.477 with five home runs and 13 RBIs. But as he's struggled lately, outfielders Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco have taken off at the plate and made it harder to maintain their four-man outfield rotation.
"We had talked from the beginning [that] Austin wasn't a fourth outfielder, and it was not in his best interest or our best interest to serve as a fourth outfielder," Huntington said. "Once the rotation stopped, because those three started to really produce again, it became time to get him out."
Twice, the Pirates found ways to play Meadows. They called him up and gave him regular time in center field while Marte was on the disabled list. When Marte returned, they decided Meadows deserved to stay based on his performance and devised a plan to create playing time for Meadows, Marte, Dickerson and Polanco.
Earlier this week, Meadows said he would prefer to remain in the Majors rather than play every day in Triple-A.
"Obviously, your goal is to play every day and help the team win," Meadows said. "If I'm not starting, if I'm still getting into the games, that's OK with me. Obviously, I'd rather be here than Triple-A. I think anybody would say that."
On Thursday, manager Clint Hurdle said Meadows was "working on some things" and acknowledged that they were "getting to a spot where he needs to play." Meadows said he hadn't changed his pregame routine.
The Pirates called up Meadows earlier than they usually promote their top prospects. If he spends a few weeks in the Minors, not accruing Major League service time, Meadows likely won't qualify for Super Two status. Huntington said the service-time implications were "not a focus" for the front office.
"We brought him up because we felt like he was our best player at that point in time," Huntington said. "We've sent him out because it doesn't make any sense to [call up] a young prospect and leave him on the bench to play once or twice a week."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.