SAN DIEGO — All things considered, the Padres and Fernando Tatis Jr. appear to have averted disaster.
San Diego placed Tatis on the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, a day after the superstar shortstop took a vicious hack at a pitch and crumpled in front of home plate in agony.
Tatis underwent further tests, including an MRI, on Tuesday, and Padres general manager A.J. Preller said those results indicate that Tatis will not require surgery — which could have cost him several months and potentially ended his season.
On the swing, Tatis sustained a partial dislocation of his shoulder, and Tuesday’s exams revealed a partial tear of his labrum. Those injuries will require rest and rehab to heal, Preller said, and the Padres wouldn’t place a timeline on Tatis’ return.
They have every reason to be cautious. Tatis, of course, signed a record-setting 14-year contract with San Diego in February after two brilliant — but shortened — seasons in the big leagues. Considering his ridiculous production across those two seasons — .301/.374/.582 with 39 homers and 27 steals in 143 games — any absence for Tatis would be crushing for a Padres team with World Series ambitions and the Dodgers to deal with in the National League West.
“Let’s be real,” said Padres manager Jayce Tingler. “You’re not going to replace him. Now, can a group of eight, nine, 10, 11 guys step their game up a small percentage? Can we come together and pull for one another? … Like I said, you’re not going to replace him, but we believe in our guys.”
For the bulk of his professional career, Tatis has battled minor dislocations of his left shoulder — a fact that came to light in March when he exited a Spring Training game because of it. None of those dislocations prompted a reaction like Monday’s, however.
Despite undeniably positive news that Tatis won’t require major surgery, there are still some very important questions lingering around his injury:
What’s next for Tatis?
Preller indicated that it’s possible Tatis might return from the injured list after a minimum stint of 10 days. That’s the optimistic view. The Padres need to see how Tatis’ shoulder responds to treatment and rehab first.
Perhaps most importantly, Preller indicated that he’s been assured that Tatis, when healthy, isn’t at risk of long-term damage to the shoulder — apart from perhaps another dislocation.
“This is not something we feel like, long term, we’re putting him at risk if he goes out there and continues playing this season,” Preller said. “There’s always a chance that he can have another episode, another incident, where there’s another subluxation. At that point in time, we’ll evaluate from there.
“This is not a situation where our doctors — knowing the player, seeing him and examining him, looking at images — feel like we’re putting him at issue of, long term, having more damage if he goes out and plays.”
As such, the next step for Tatis is a few days of rest. Then he’ll begin to strengthen his shoulder before resuming baseball activity.
Will Tatis need surgery eventually?
Preller wouldn’t rule it out. Of course, it’s partially contingent upon whether Tatis’ shoulder barks again when he returns.
The best way to avoid that, Preller said, will be to give Tatis the proper rest and treatment to ensure the shoulder heals. But considering the nature of the injury, there will always be at least a small possibility of another recurrence unless Tatis opts for surgery.
Preller said that isn’t a necessity right now, but he indicated it might be revisited in the future — even if the injury doesn’t recur.
“The expectation is we’re able to address it right now, without having to go the surgery route,” Preller said. “There’s players that will get through the season and then, in the offseason, will get the surgery, because they don’t want to have to go through that regular maintenance every single day to stay on the field. … From our standpoint, it’s kind of a wait and see.
“Is it inevitable? I didn’t get that from our doctors today when I asked them that question.”
Time for ‘the talk’ with Tatis?
Since his arrival in the big leagues, the Padres have been vehement in their defense of Tatis’ no-holds-barred playing style. He’s one of the most dynamic players in baseball — why rob him of the traits that make him so special?
The reality is: The Padres need to find a way to keep Tatis’ special talents on the field. Tatis played only 84 games in 2019 because of injuries to his back and hamstring, and he missed the end of the Minor League season because of a broken thumb.
“Coming off last night, I think that’ll be more of a conversation,” Preller said. “Part of it’s style of play. Part of it is just things that he needs to do from a positioning standpoint with his body to make sure he’s put himself in the best possible position to stay on the field.”
That might portend a limit on headfirst slides for Tatis, or perhaps some refinement to his violent follow-through. But that’s an extremely fine line to walk. Even amid his early struggles this season, Tatis has launched a 465-foot moonshot and evaded a tag with a Matrix-esque slide.
Tatis is one of the sport’s most electric players. He brings immense value because of those electric things that he does. Is it even possible for Tatis to curtail his daring, aggressive playing style and get the same results? We might soon find out.
How can the Padres possibly replace Tatis?
When Tatis sustained a stress reaction in his lower back in 2019 in mid-August, the Padres cratered. Without their most dynamic player and their offensive spark, they went 15-29 after the injury.
“This is not the 2019 team,” right fielder Wil Myers said on Monday. “This is the 2021 team that’s very good. We’ll go out there each day ready to win. We still have a great lineup and a lot of great hitters in this lineup.”
Myers isn’t wrong. It’s a wholly different supporting cast around Tatis. The Padres view themselves as bona fide World Series contenders, and they’ve got the deep lineup and pitching staff to prove it.
That depth should come in handy. With Tatis on the injured list, San Diego recalled outfielder Brian O’Grady from its alternate site. Ha-Seong Kim, who replaced Tatis at shortstop on Monday night, started in Tatis’ place on Tuesday against San Francisco.
Kim is likely to be the primary option going forward, Tingler said. The Padres signed the Korean star to a four-year deal during the offseason, and he notched his first two hits on Saturday. The Padres have other shortstop options, too, including Jorge Mateo, Jake Cronenworth, and even third baseman Manny Machado in a pinch.
“We have a lot of options from a middle-infield standpoint,” Preller said. “But obviously, you’re always a better team when Fernando Tatis is on the field for you. That’s the overall goal — getting him back on the field.”