DETROIT — Austin Meadows has had some tough times before.
But nothing like this season.
Traded unexpectedly by the Rays to the Tigers at the end of spring training, he has been limited to 36 games. In order, he has been sidelined by: vertigo, COVID-19 and soreness in both Achilles’ tendons.
“It’s definitely been a disaster, if you want to put it plainly,” he said before Thursday’s game.
The spiral started quickly.
The trade, for infielder Isaac Paredes and a draft pick (No. 71 overall, which the Rays used on Illinois State outfielder Ryan Cermak), was a “surprise.” A decent start (though no homers) came to a halt when Meadows went to the plate during a May 15 game and “felt like everything was spinning.”
He popped out, then went back to the dugout and told manager A.J. Hinch something was wrong. “I was like, I can’t see straight,” Meadows said. “It was scary. … You feel like you’re kind of lost and like you might pass out or something.”
Meadows eventually was diagnosed with vertigo, returned June 7, played eight games and was sidelined again. When he was getting past that, he caught COVID. And during the 10-day isolation period, his Achilles became sore, then worse — “a stabbing pain” — during an early July rehab assignment, further delaying his return and derailing his season.
Thursday, Meadows said he not only is feeling better now, he is feeling better about his situation. He has been working out with the big-league team again after a stint at the spring/rehab base in Lakeland and expects to go on a short rehab assignment next week before rejoining the Tigers.
“Things are looking up,” he said. “Just trying to finish the year strong, not make it too much of a lost year.”
Meadows popped over to the Rays clubhouse early Thursday afternoon to visit with manager Kevin Cash and some of his old mates, who he admits he misses.
“He’s had a very tough year. I was glad to see a smile on his face,” Cash said. “Always fun to see Austin, and he just had such a big impact on our team over the last couple seasons.”
Going forward, what Meadows, 27, would like most is to return to the form of his recent past.
In 2019, he made the All-Star team and hit .291 with 33 homers, 89 RBIs and a .922 OPS, finishing 14 in the American League MVP voting.Though his 2020 season was disrupted by COVID and injury, he did hit a big home run before Mike Brosseau hit the big homer in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees.
Last season, Meadows became the first Ray to reach the 100-RBI mark since Evan Longoria in 2010. He hit .234 with 27 homers and a .772 OPS, and had another top-20 MVP finish.
“Hopefully,” he said, “I can continue to get back to my old self, per se.”
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He definitely plans to try.
“It’s kind of easy just to call it a wash and just be like, ‘You know what? Forget it,’” he said. “But I just feel like that’s not who I am. I just try to keep pushing, keep fighting, and try to finish this year on a good note.”
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