Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr. homers in IL return again, makes first appearance in outfield

Fernando Tatis Jr. doesn’t ever seem to show any rust when he comes off the injured list.

For the third time this year, Tatis was placed on IL. And for the third time this year, he homered in his return. This time, he launched a homer not once, but twice, finishing Sunday’s 8-2 win having gone 4 of 5 from the plate with a double, two homers, four RBIs and three runs scored. The offensive explosion by Tatis was certainly welcome by the Padres, who just a few hours earlier were no-hit by Diamondbacks rookie Tyler Gilbert.

While the sight of Tatis launching a homer run has become a common sight, his position might have taken some by surprise: Tatis started in right field, the first time he has played any position in the majors besides shortstop.

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Tatis is coming back from a shoulder injury after dislocating it for at least the fifth time this year, according to The Athletic. That has brought on concerns he might need surgery; San Diego, now 67-53, finds itself just 2.5 games up on the Reds for the second NL Wild Card spot. The team has needed their All-Star shortstop back, especially having lost four in a row.

Tatis has slashed .298/.378/.671 with 33 homers and 23 stolen bases on the year, emerging as the favorite to win the NL MVP despite several trips to the injured list. His 33 homers lead the National League and he is the only player in baseball with more than 30 homers and 20 stolen bases.

Moving Tatis to the outfield would likely reduce the strain he faces defensively, not to mention it could potentially help the Padres improve slightly at the position. Despite coming up with reports of potential Gold Glove-caliber defense, Tatis has struggled, especially in 2021. His minus-1 outs above average rank him 17th in the league among shortstops, according to Baseball Savant, and it overall places him in the 24th percentile among all MLB players. And though his range and knack for the dazzling play have impressed, his 20 errors are tied for the MLB lead. His .934 fielding percentage is the worst among qualifying shortstops, according to Fangraphs. On Sunday, he caught all three fly balls hit his way.

Should Tatis find himself occupying right field the remainder of the season, it would likely mean Jake Cronenworth and Ha-Seong Kim would see the bulk of the time at shortstop the rest of the season, with Adam Frazier taking over at second base. The outfield would begin to get more interesting as the team already had Trent Grisham, Tommy Pham and Wil Myers posting above-average offensive production. Myers could be moved back to first, the position he occupied in San Diego before the team signed Eric Hosmer, who could offer the team a platoon option across the field.

Finding a place to fit in all these bats is never a bad problem to have, especially moving into the stretch run to the postseason.


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