How Tatis flipped durability narrative

September 18th, 2023

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell’s Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Tonight, takes the field for the 130th time this season. Of note: That ties his career high.

With two weeks remaining, Tatis is destined to blow past his career high in games played -- and that’s despite the fact that he missed the first 20 games this season while serving the remainder of his PED suspension.

In the five seasons since Tatis debuted, few have ever doubted his remarkable talent. The biggest knock on Tatis, even before he missed the entire 2022 season, was his inability to stay on the field.

He heard that criticism. And he set out to change that narrative in 2023 -- even if he acknowledges that the criticism was completely fair.

“I wasn’t on the field enough,” Tatis said recently. “I know what I’m capable of doing when I’m on the baseball field. And I can repeat it every single day. So, what was the tweak, what was the mind change that I needed to do to change it?”

Really, Tatis said, he needed to mature into understanding what it takes to stay on the field. He’s an everyday player now. And, yes, a large part of that is due to the wrist and shoulder operations he underwent last year after his suspension. Those injuries are no longer an issue.

But more than anything, Tatis said, he’s changed his mindset. Now that he’s on the verge of setting a career high in games played, what does it mean to him?

“It means that the plan worked,” Tatis said. “Just make smart choices to be always on the field. I’m getting a little bit better prepared. … You just learn to listen to your body better. Looks like the more you break it, the more you learn about it. But the biggest part is probably just being a little bit smarter.”

“A little bit smarter” feels like quite an understatement, considering the reasons Tatis missed time in the past -- the suspension, the wrist injury stemming from a motorcycle accident, the recurrent injuries to his shoulder that he was once reluctant to get surgically repaired.

But in 2023, Tatis has worked to flip that narrative. In the weeks after his suspension, he spoke to his teammates and asked for forgiveness. Then, he showed up to camp in February and, in the eyes of those teammates, earned it through his actions.

After a season away from baseball, Tatis has now spent practically an entire season on the field. He’s only missed one game since returning from suspension.

“I did not intend to play him every day,” manager Bob Melvin said recently. “I was really hoping for, maybe, 10 games and one off, that type of thing. But the position we were in from the very beginning, and as athletic as he is, how well he was playing in right field, it was hard to give him days off.”

So Tatis kept playing and playing, and he loved it. It sure beats the alternative -- even if his 2023 season hasn’t been up to his lofty standards.

On Friday night, Tatis launched his 25th homer and became the first player in franchise history with multiple seasons of 25 homers and 25 steals. He was asked if that qualified as a successful year and, essentially, he said it wasn’t. If he’s playing every day, he expects more than that.

Tatis entered play Monday hitting a wholly respectable .262/.326/.466. Still, those numbers were all career lows.

Perhaps that was to be expected for a player who missed the entire 2022 season, then worked through the lingering effects of multiple surgeries. As such, Tatis is insistent that 2024 will be markedly different -- for himself and for the Padres.

“I’ve got no doubt next year is going to be a totally different year in all positive ways and matters,” Tatis said. “I know it’s going to be history. I don’t want to get too in front of myself. But I just know it’s going to be one of those seasons.”