Tatis not yet cleared to resume swinging bat

June 15th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Three months ago, on the first day of Spring Training, Padres president of baseball operations A.J. Preller met with reporters and offered a three-month timetable for the return of his superstar shortstop. Now, with three months of hindsight, we know that timetable was overly optimistic.

Fernando Tatis Jr. still has not been cleared to swing a bat since he fractured the scaphoid bone in his left wrist during the offseason. And on Tuesday, Preller offered some sobering news on that front:

"Another MRI scan continues to show healing, but it was not quite at the level for ... a full green light," Preller said. "Basically we're in a spot where we're going to progress week to week."

In short: There’s no timetable for when Tatis might resume swinging or any clear indication of when his next scan might come.

The news wasn’t all bad, however. Tatis has made enough progress that he was able to play catch, full-throttle, for the first time since sustaining the injury. Previously, he played only light catch and taken light ground balls. (Any time Tatis ramped up to throwing from a distance, a Padres staffer caught the ball for him, easing the impact on his glove hand.)

That’s no longer the case. On Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Tatis went through an extensive workout, in which he played catch with Padres first-base coach David Macias before taking regular grounders at shortstop.

“It's a little bit of both,” Tatis said. “A little bit happy because I'm still progressing. And a little bit sad, because it's not the pace that everybody wants, including myself.”

The Padres, meanwhile, keep winning even without Tatis in the lineup. Their victory over the Cubs on Monday moved them into a virtual tie with the Dodgers atop the National League West. At 38-24, the Padres are off to their best 62-game start in franchise history.

“It's been hard being on the sideline,” Tatis said. “But I'm just proud of my team. We're one of the best teams in baseball without me. They're doing a great job; everybody's coming along together.”

But that hot start has been largely a testament to a deep rotation, a solid defense and the performance of Manny Machado. As a whole, the performance of the Padres' offense has been middling. It’s a lineup that clearly could use a bit more thump -- particularly more production at shortstop.

"We're expecting to have him back -- it's just a matter of when," Preller said. "I don't think it changes like, ‘Hey, we need to do something from a roster standpoint.’ The guys, they've played well, and we're finding a lot of ways to win games."

Tatis rejoined the team in Chicago on Tuesday, after he underwent those scans in Arizona on Monday with Dr. Donald Sheridan, who performed the surgery on March 16. Preller noted that Dr. Sheridan was pleased with some level of progress Tatis has made in strengthening his wrist. Hence Tatis’ increased on-field workload.

But the team has said all along that there would be no timetable for Tatis’ return until he can begin swinging. His wrist hadn't quite healed enough for Dr. Sheridan to give the go-ahead.

“It's really hard for me,” Tatis said. “I feel a little bit disappointed, but I've got to trust the doctors and my team that's behind it and what everybody has planned for the long run.”

Tatis, of course, is under contract in San Diego through 2034. The Padres aren’t about to rush the process to get him back into their lineup.

"From the beginning, this was all about the long term and a long relationship with Fernando in his career," Preller said. "We're going to be very cautious. This falls in line with that."

For now, Tatis will continue doing some level of baseball activity, without swinging. Now that he’s playing catch and fielding grounders, he’s doing nearly everything else. Tatis remains with the team, and before games he regularly works on his defense, mobility and conditioning.

On Tuesday, Tatis even took reps in center field for the first time this year, fielding grounders and throwing to second base. (He later downplayed any notion that he might return to the outfield this season, saying he merely wanted a new pregame challenge and that, “When I catch balls out there, I come back to the infield, and I'm a better infielder.”)

Tatis maintains that his current time off has been a learning experience. His ascension to superstardom happened in an instant. He has played only 273 career games, and Tatis has a slash line of .292/.369/.596 with 81 homers and a trove of highlight-reel plays. He’s been named first-team all-MLB at shortstop in each of the past two seasons. A setback like this one, Tatis says, brings introspection.

“I'm a guy that's never had patience in my life,” Tatis said. “Everything that I had wanted, I just go and grab it, go and get it, make it happen. But I feel like this time, it's not the case. I'm learning.”

Said Preller: “I think he understands that this is about what's best for him long term. … This is about not just the next week. This is about the next few months and, really, the next 10-plus years, in terms of a career. If that means we're going to have to take it week to week here right now, he was very understanding of that."