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Meadows to IL: What's next for OF and Rays?

@juanctoribio
September 18, 2020

After clinching a second consecutive postseason berth on Thursday, the Rays were open about their desire of winning the American League East. On Friday, Tampa Bay learned that it will have to try and accomplish that without its All-Star outfielder. Austin Meadows was placed on the 10-day injured list with

After clinching a second consecutive postseason berth on Thursday, the Rays were open about their desire of winning the American League East. On Friday, Tampa Bay learned that it will have to try and accomplish that without its All-Star outfielder.

Austin Meadows was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left oblique strain, one that the outfielder confirmed was a Grade 2 strain. After exiting Game 1 of Thursday’s doubleheader sweep against the Orioles, Meadows said he woke up sore on Friday, and that’s when he knew that his regular season was likely over.

“It’s pretty severe, but it could be worse,” Meadows said. “We’ll see what these next few weeks hold and go from there.”

Will Meadows return in 2020?
With the injury being a Grade 2 strain, Meadows’ regular season is done. The next step for Meadows will be to get as much rest as possible, then slowly continue his progression with the training staff.

“Right now it’s just take it day by day and work with our training staff to try and get it better,” Meadows said. “We’ll see where that goes.”

Manager Kevin Cash didn’t have an exact timeline for Meadows, but he said that it would take the team playing “really, really well” in order to see the outfielder back on the field this season, hinting at the World Series, at the earliest.

What are the Rays losing?
The 2020 season hasn’t been easy for Meadows. The outfielder missed the first two weeks of the regular season after testing positive for COVID-19 during Summer Camp, and he didn’t quite find his rhythm at the plate upon his return.

Meadows hit just .205 with four home runs and his OPS dropped from .922 last season to .667 this season. He had recorded at least one hit in five of his last seven games.

“It sucks for sure,” Meadows said. “But obviously the timing of it really sucks with there being nine games left and then the postseason. It’s something that I’ll try and build on and try to learn from.”

How do the Rays replace him in the lineup?
Despite his struggles, Meadows was the go-to leadoff option for the Rays, particularly against right-handed pitching. In his absence, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will get a lot of the opportunities at the leadoff spot, including Friday against the Orioles.

“We really like a guy that gives good at-bats, sees a lot of pitches and gets on base,” Cash said. “And Yoshi can get on base.”

While Tsutsugo will be one of the leadoff candidates, Cash mentioned that the team will continue to tinker with the lineup over the last nine games of the regular season.

“There’s no doubt it’s tough,” Cash said. “We’re missing our three-hole hitter in Yandy [Díaz], our cleanup hitter in Ji-Man [Choi] and in theory our best hitter, or one of our best hitters, in Austin. So we’ll find a way to get creative, and we certainly have the pieces and opportunities to present to guys that can make the most of it and slide right in and fill some of those holes.”

What about in the outfield?
Randy Arozarena, Brett Phillips and Hunter Renfroe are three guys who could see an increase in playing time with Meadows on the IL. Phillips recorded his first hit with the Rays in the 3-1 win in Game 1 of Thursday's doubleheader, and he has shown off his stellar defense and baserunning since being acquired from the Royals.

“They’re good players. They do some special things that can help you win games,” Cash said. “We have Phillips as a really, really good defensive outfielder and has plenty of pop in his bat. And we’ve seen enough of Randy that he can impact any lineup when he’s timed up and seeing the ball well.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.