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BRADENTON — Fans at the Pirates’ spring stadium were excited to see Austin Meadows on Wednesday, more than a couple yelling some version of wishing he was still with the home team and not traded to the Rays, where he was a 2019 All-Star.
Meadows liked being back, acknowledging he still has a lot of friends among players and staff, and good memories from the first 5 1/4 u00bd years of his pro career.
But he also was excited to play against them — “A little bit of adrenaline coming back here, obviously.” And that showed most clearly when Meadows turned on a 97-mph Mitch Keller pitch and laced it over the rightfield fence, his fourth of a big spring, as he seeks to rebound from a 2020 season wrecked by COVID-19, injury and inconsistent play.
“Seeing a lot of pitches is key for me right now,” Meadows said. “Not being too aggressive early, just working counts and trying to feel good in the box with my rhythm and my timing. The timing is the biggest thing. My timing feels really good, and I feel like I’m on the fastball like I showed (Wednesday), being able to turn on something inside like that and being able to get to that … that’s always a good sign.”
Manager Kevin Cash said they’ve been impressed: “I think you have to be. We didn’t see him able to get to some of those pitches last year when he came back. We know it’s in there.”
First at first
Yoshi Tsutsugo has looked good enough at first base that Cash said the Rays would be fine with starting him there if Ji-Man Choi’s sore right knee keeps him sidelined at the opening of the season. Tsutsugo, who played third and leftfield last season, stayed back in Port Charlotte on Wednesday with minor-league coaches Michael Johns and Brady Williams, for more drill work on finer points, such as receiving throws from different angles.
“He looks totally comfortable from just watching him, his reads off the bat, where he’s supposed to be when balls are hit,” Cash said. “So I think we’re all very encouraged with what he’s shown and would feel totally comfortable with him playing and getting plenty of reps over there.”
Cash said there still is no update on Choi, who received a cortisone shot Saturday after an MRI showed inflammation, as the Rays want to “let it cool down for a week or so.”
Game details: Rays 10, Pirates 9
Joey Wendle, playing third Wednesday, had his first three hits of the spring after an 0-for-10 start. … Minor-league outfielder Ryan Boldt, who has impressed at times this spring, had four hits, a homer, double and two singles. … The Rays (7-9) took an 8-1 lead in the third and hung on for a 10-9 win, their third straight heading into Thursday’s off day. … Though reassigned to the minors Monday, consensus top prospect Wander Franco started at short, going 1-for-5 and making a slick play in the hole and jump throw, though he didn’t get the call at first. … The game lasted three hours, 43 minutes as the teams combined for 35 hits.
Collin McHugh and Brent Honeywell were among the pitchers who threw well in a simulated game setting in Port Charlotte. Cash said McHugh, a free-agent addition who had been working back into form after sitting out 2020 recovering from injury, was “very sharp” with his full repertoire working over three innings. … Centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier is slowed by quad tightness but should return to action Friday in Fort Myers, Cash said. Kiermaier missed time at the start of camp due to hip tightness. … Chris Archer, who worked 1 1/3 innings in his spring debut last Friday, will make his next start this Friday and remains on track to start the season as scheduled. … Rays players wore green hats, and some had green socks, for St. Patrick’s Day.