PHOENIX – After 564 days removed from the sport he loves, Fernando Tatis Jr. recently made his return to Major League Baseball at Chase Field.
Why so long? A wrist injury by the San Diego Padres standout was followed by an 80-game suspension for using performance enhance drugs, a violation that angered many teammates and fans. Monday night he returns to Petco Park to play in a game for the first time since Sept. 26, 2021.
“It’s great to be back out there with my boys,” Tatis said after his first game at Chase Field. “Just happy to get that ‘W’ and be back out there. Embraced every single moment, embraced the fans, embraced everything.”
The 2022 season was a lost one for Tatis. The then-23-year-old had suffered a fractured wrist in the offseason forcing him to miss months of the season. Then news broke on August 12 of that year that he had violated MLB’s drug policy after testing positive for clostebol. He argued that he took it to treat ringworm, unknowing of its consequences, but accepted the suspension and missed the remainder of the 2022 season, the 2022 playoffs and 20 games of the 2023 season.
The Padres’ unexpected NLCS run would cross off additional games from Tatis’ suspension, but the question remained: What could the Padres have done with the shortstop/outfielder in the heart of their order?
In those 564 days, the Padres made significant changes to their roster, most notably acquiring Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals. They also signed shortstop Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280 million deal, solidifying Tatis’ stay in the outfield. Adding another perennial All-Star to the roster, the Padres had Bogaerts join a core of Tatis, Soto, and Manny Machado, adding up to just under $140 million in 2023 alone.
With Tatis missing the 2022 season, many, including Padres general manager A.J. Preller, began to question Tatis’ maturity levels. After signing a 14-year, $340 million extension in 2021, Tatis would post career numbers, hitting 42 home runs with an OPS of .975. Everyone had their eyes set on a huge 2022 campaign.
Tatis wasn’t completely removed from baseball and was able to play 16 games in spring training, hitting two home runs with a .273 batting average. When spring baseball came to a close, the three-year veteran was sent to Triple-A to keep active during the remaining 20-game suspension. In those eight games, Tatis would slug seven home runs, including a three-home run game.
By not facing any MLB pitching in 2022, Tatis’ 2023 will often involve facing pitchers for the first time. In his return against the Diamondbacks, he faced Ryne Nelson, Scott McGough and José Ruiz, all for the first time in his major league career. The result was an 0-for-5 effort with two strikeouts.
Despite the disappointing day at the plate, it was at Chase Field that Tatis seemed to have the most fun. With the friar faithful cheering on his every move, “Tatis” was shouted frequently. Partaking in both on-field batting practice and right-field drills, Tatis could be seen waving to fans and tossing up balls.
He looked pleased to be back. Clearly, so were his teammates and many fans.