Posted on May 10, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Tampa Bay Rays experienced a case of good news-bad news on Friday. The club was able to activate power-hitting outfielder Austin Meadows from the Injured List. However, they also placed starting catcher Mike Zunino on the 10-day IL with a strained quad. The moves came right before a massive three-game series this weekend with the New York Yankees, a team the Rays lead by 1.5 games atop the AL East standings.
The loss of Zunino could be a big one the Rays. After leaving Wednesday’s game with a quad injury, Rays manager Kevin Cash said Friday that Zunino could miss up to four or five weeks. While Zunino isn’t a huge contributor offensively, he’s as reliable as they get behind the plate. To make matters worse, the Rays are already without backup catcher Michael Perez, who went on the IL Wednesday with an oblique problem.
With both catchers going down, the Rays have been quick to trade for Travis d’Arnaud. The veteran was just signed by the Dodgers last week but acquired by Tampa Bay for cash on Friday. He will likely share time behind the plate with Nick Ciuffo. The team’s no. 25 prospect, according to MLB.com, Ciuffo was just called up when Perez went on the IL. However, he was hitting just .158 at triple-A, so the Rays shouldn’t expect much out of him offensively. Meanwhile, d’Arnaud is just 2 for 24 this season.
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Even with a veteran like d’Arnaud added to the mix, the Rays should be a little worried. Tampa Bay leads the AL East because their pitching staff is the best in baseball. That pitching staff will now have two catchers who aren’t accustomed to working with them.
“For all the credit our pitchers get, a lot of that should be directed at the catching core. They’ve played a big role,” Cash said Friday. “We’re going to have some guys that are not as familiar with pitchers really come in and get a crash course of understanding and prioritizing the pitching staff.”
On the bright side, the return of Meadows should help an offense that’s been mediocre at best early in the season. Meadows went to the IL with a sprained thumb last month. Prior to that, the 24-year-old had gotten off to a scorching hot start. In his first 20 games of the season, Meadows hit .351 with six home runs, posting an OPS of 1.097. He’s been by far the team’s best offensive player this year and will remain key if the Rays are going to keep up the success they’ve had the first six weeks of the season.
With Meadows back, he will likely return to being Tampa’s primary leadoff hitter. His return also make it easier for the Rays to put Avisail Garcia in the DH spot, knowing they can also move Ji-Man Choi to first base. Meanwhile, an outfield of Meadows, Kevin Kiermaier, and Tommy Pham is elite defensively, as the return of Meadows will help Tampa on both sides of the ball.
Ultimately, the Rays will have to take the good with the bad. Getting Meadows back is huge, especially with an important series against the Yankees on tap. However, having their top two catchers on the IL at the same time is a hardship they will have to overcome. Tampa’s hold on first place could be at risk this weekend. They need to hope the return of Meadows can outweigh the loss of Zunino.