Ex-Pirate Austin Meadows has memorable return to old spring home

Meadows continued his solid spring with a two-hit game against Pittsburgh in Bradenton
MONICA HERNDON   |   TimesTampa Bay Rays player Austin Meadows in the dugout during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Marlins during Spring Training on February 25, 2019 at Charlotte Sports Park, in Port Charlotte, Florida.
MONICA HERNDON | TimesTampa Bay Rays player Austin Meadows in the dugout during the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Marlins during Spring Training on February 25, 2019 at Charlotte Sports Park, in Port Charlotte, Florida.
Published March 15

BRADENTON -- Austin Meadows spent years of three spring training with the Pirates, so naturally returning to LECOM Park as an opposing player for the first time in the Rays’ road split-squad game Friday night meant something to him.

"It was fun to see everyone and kind of have fun and cut up with them," said Meadows, who was a top prospect with the Pirates before the July trade that brought him to Tampa Bay and sent Chris Archer to Pittsburgh. "It was kind of cool. It brought back some memories. We know it's a business and you've got to move on, but it's definitely cool to see those guys."

It was clear it meant something to the Pirates as well. The Pirates dugout gave him a warm greeting as he walked to the batters box to open the game, prompting Meadows to subtly tip his helmet in their direction, and catcher Francisco Cervelli gave him a one-armed hug at home plate before he stepped into the box.

"Just the respect we all have for each other," Meadows said. "... That respect goes a long way and it's just something that's more than baseball. Being able to have that relationship with those guys is special."

Then, Meadows continued what's been a strong spring in his first camp with the Rays, posting his second multi-hit game of the Grapefruit League season. Meadow has recorded a hit in 10 of his 13 spring training starts.

After beating out an infield single in his second at bat off Pirates starter Joe Musgrove. Meadows then roped a single off reliever Felipe Vazquez in his third at bat.

"He put a nice at bat on Vasquez, and that's not easy to do, a tough lefty," said Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro, who managed the game in Bradenton.

Injuries beset Meadows' path the the big leagues with the Pirates, but this spring he's stayed healthy going into the stretch run of spring training

"That's the biggest thing, being able to play hard and stay healthy, not play scared or play cautiously but play hard and take care of myself," Meadows said.

Font struggles

Wilmer Font's spring training numbers haven't been impressive -- he allowed two homers four batters into his start in Bradenton -- but the Rays' right-hander's focus is on remaining healthy after he missed the last three months of last season with a lat strain. Font has allowed three homers in five spring innings. Starling Marte's two-run homer cleared the stadium and landed in the parking lot past the left field boardwalk. After allowing a solo homer to Josh Bell, Font retired five of the last six hitters he faced, including two strikeouts. "The fastball was down today,"Font said. "I usually go up. But after that, curveball, slider, splitty, everything was good."

"I think what you look for more is how it's coming out of his hand," Quatraro said. "He had life on the ball and in the second inning even more life. Both of those things were what I'd take away from it."

Gray goes deep

Another former Pirate, shortstop Tristan Gray, made a nice impression coming over from minor league camp, hitting the three-run homer off the bench in the seventh inning. Gray also game just a few feet of hitting a second homer in his second at bat on a ball to the right-center field warning track. Gray came to the Rays as part of the Corey Dickerson trade last spring.

"Every guy whose come over this spring, they've been jumping in there and playing aggressively and not backing down and that's what you want to see," said Quatraro. "I don't think it's as much getting in front of us, it's more them getting into this kind of atmosphere and getting a chance to get of those some nerves out so when they come back they don't get that."

In Bradenton, a 6-6 tie with the Pirates

Slowed by traffic, the Rays’ team bus arrived at LECOM Park about 30 minutes before the scheduled gametime for the split-squad nightcap, forcing first pitch to be moved back about 15 minutes. ... Rays pitchers allowed four homers, but three were solo homers. ... Rays Adam Kolarek, who is competing for one of the last bullpen spots, allowed two runs in two innings of work, including a solo homer to Cervelli. ... Jung Ho Kang hit his fifth homer, tied for the spring training lead, off Oliver Drake. ... Guillermo Heredia just missed his fourth homer of the spring, hitting a ball high off the right-center field fence for a double.

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected] Follow @EddieInTheYard.