ST. PETERSBURG -- After missing the last 13 Summer Camp workouts, Austin Meadows was officially placed on the injured list by the Rays after he tested positive for COVID-19. Meadows gave the Rays consent to release the information on Thursday.
It’s unclear whether placing Meadows on the IL means the Rays will be without their best hitter for Opening Day against the Blue Jays. Manager Kevin Cash said it’s “fair to say” that there’s uncertainty about Meadows' availability.
“There is uncertainty,” Cash said. “I spoke with Austin yesterday and pretty much daily. He’s doing well. He’s doing what he needs from a physical standpoint, so whenever he comes back, he’ll be that much closer. We’re a week away today and not sure where that’s going to land with him, but we’re a better club when he’s in the lineup somewhere, so we want him to come back quickly.”
Meadows, who led the team with 33 home runs last season en route to his first All-Star appearance, was in attendance for the first workout on July 3, but hadn’t been spotted on the field by media members since. Meadows told MLB.com that he feels great and is eager to get back on the field with his teammates, though it’s unclear when that will be.
Meadows is the second Rays player to announce that he tested positive, joining Tyler Glasnow, who returned to camp on Tuesday.
In Meadows’ absence, the Rays will lean on Yoshi Tsutsugo, Kevin Kiermaier, Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot as the four primary outfielders. Mike Brosseau and Brandon Lowe could also play the corner outfield if needed.
Meadows’ absence also leaves a void for a left-handed hitter in the lineup. He was expected to hit in the middle of the order against left-handers and atop the lineup against right-handers. Cash hasn’t given much thought to any lineup changes, but mentioned Ji-Man Choi and Tsutsugo as potential options.
“I haven’t had too many batting order conversations, but I mean, as far the right-left matchups, we’ve got a lot of options,” he said. “There’s gonna be so many day-to-day game-time decisions that we’ll see where we land, as far as a health standpoint, but we’re going to use our righties against left-handed pitching, for sure.”
With Meadows on the IL, the Rays addedd left-handed reliever Aaron Loup to their Major League roster. Loup was a non-roster invitee during Spring Training and has been a member of the 60-man player pool.
In his eight-year career, Loup has been a lefty specialist, limiting left-handed hitters to a .623 OPS. He has a career 3.45 ERA and will be the third lefty reliever in the bullpen, joining José Alvarado and Colin Poche.