SAN DIEGO -- Fernando Tatis Jr. took one vicious swing at an Anthony DeSclafani curveball on Monday and crumpled to the dirt in agony -- agony quickly felt by the Padres, their fans, and, frankly, the sport as a whole.
Tatis -- San Diego’s dazzling 22-year-old shortstop and one of baseball’s most exciting players -- suffered a left shoulder subluxation in the third inning of the Padres’ 3-2 loss to the Giants on Monday. He left the field in obvious pain, accompanied by manager Jayce Tingler and a team athletic trainer. There’s not yet a timetable on Tatis’ recovery, and the team said he would undergo an MRI and be reevaluated on Tuesday.
“It's going to be really hard to speculate without getting the MRI and getting all those things the doctors need to look at and make a call,” Tingler said afterward.
For the bulk of his professional career, Tatis has battled soreness in his left shoulder -- a fact that came to light in March when he exited a Spring Training game because of it. He returned to the field two days later. But considering Tatis’ reaction on Monday night, the Padres could be looking at a significantly longer absence. (Tingler added it was too soon to speculate about surgery).
After the first injury -- which he sustained while backhanding a ground ball -- Tatis continued to receive daily treatment on his shoulder. He reassured the Padres it felt OK. On Monday night, however, Tingler revealed that Tatis has suffered minor shoulder dislocations in the past, too, saying, “It comes out and comes back in.” Just never to this extreme.
“That's the most [pain] I've seen him in,” Tingler said.
Tatis, of course, signed a record-setting 14-year contract with the Padres 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 injury to Tatis would be crushing for a Padres team with World Series ambitions and the Dodgers to deal with in the National League West.
Tatis has dealt with a handful of injuries throughout his professional career. He played only 84 games during his rookie season because of injuries to his hamstring and back. He fractured his left thumb in the Minors in 2018, too, and had his season cut short.
Tatis was off to a slow start in 2021, hitting just .167 with five errors in five games. He was replaced at shortstop by Ha-Seong Kim, an offseason signing from Korea, who would presumably serve as Tatis’ primary replacement at short should he miss significant time. Tingler mentioned Jake Cronenworth, Jorge Mateo and Tucupita Marcano as options as well.
“Kim would be the first option,” Tingler said. “We know Mateo can play over there, Tuc can play over there and certainly Jake. I feel like we're going to have guys be able to do that.”
Not to Tatis’ incredibly lofty standards, of course.
The Padres built enough depth and positional flexibility that they believe they’d have quality big leaguers at every position, even in the event of injury. But Tatis is quite clearly more than that. He’s the spark behind the franchise’s resurgence and a dynamic five-tool superstar. Even amid his early-season struggles, he’s already launched a 465-foot moonshot and evaded a tag with a Matrix-esque slide.
Tatis’ injury cast a pall over a once-vibrant Petco Park on Monday night. The visual was particularly jarring -- Tatis curled up in front of home plate, writhing. After about 30 seconds on the ground, he stood and walked off the field, an athletic trainer stabilizing his arm.
“You don’t like to see anybody get hurt, especially a guy like that who’s pretty fun for the game, for the fans and for the game of baseball,” DeSclafani said. “Anytime an injury happens to a guy like that, it’s not good to see. Hopefully he has a quick recovery and he’s back on the field playing.”
Padres starter Adrian Morejon was sharp for four innings but allowed homers to Darin Ruf and Evan Longoria. Craig Stammen surrendered a go-ahead solo blast to pinch-hitter Mike Yastrzemski in the seventh. San Diego put two men aboard in the ninth, but Tommy Pham flied out to the warning track to end it.
It was an uninspired performance, but if the Padres' thoughts weren’t squarely on that night’s game -- well, that’s perhaps understandable.
“The guys are professional and keep going about their business,” Tingler said. “But [Tatis’ injury] is heavy on their hearts and certainly on the minds as well.”