Bumpy road leads Tatum back to Orioles

Backup catcher has experienced demotion, fatherhood, injury, recall in two-month span

May 26, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

It has been an interesting two months for catcher Craig Tatum. He lost his big league job, became a first-time father and thought his career might be in jeopardy when he heard his shoulder pop on a throw this month.

And now the 28-year-old is back in the majors, officially recalled Thursday after the Orioles demoted Brandon Snyder to Triple-A Norfolk.

"It's been up and down. Of course, I wanted to be up here, but I had some stuff to work on," said Tatum, who hit .200 in 21 games at Norfolk. "I went down there, I worked on it and my arm started hurting. When I threw a ball, I thought I was done. My shoulder was hurting so bad."

Tatum's shoulder injury was diagnosed as an impingement, and he was ordered to rest and rehabilitate for 16 days instead of undergoing surgery.

"The MRI showed nothing, so it was good. I guess it was just inflammation," Tatum said. "It feels good. The last two games I played in, it didn't hurt at all."

Considered a solid defensive catcher, Tatum batted .281 in 43 games with the Orioles last year. But he lost the reserve battle to Jake Fox this spring, partially because Tatum had a minor league option remaining and partially because Fox hit his way onto the team with 10 spring homers.

Tatum was hoping his stay in Norfolk would be short — Fox is more of an emergency catcher — but the Orioles couldn't create roster room for him until now. The demotion and injury had a bright spot: Tatum spent more time with his infant daughter, Lanier, who was born March 31.

"I didn't want to sit down there and think that I was going to keep getting called back up, because then I would've just drove myself crazy. So I just pretty much just tried not to think about it," said Tatum, who had one hit in four at-bats Thursday. "I spent time with my little girl when she was up there, and tried to figure out how to hit again."

Tatum's season debut had an inauspicious start. In the second inning, with two outs and two runners on, the Kansas City Royals' Alex Gordon swung and hit Tatum's glove, prompting a catcher's-interference call that allowed Gordon to load the bases. The next batter, Melky Cabrera, hit a two-run single to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.

But Tatum made a huge play in the ninth, diving for and snagging a pop-up bunt with a runner on second and no outs. Koji Uehara struck out the next two batters, and the Orioles won in 12 innings.

Fox embraces Tatum's return

With the promotion of Tatum, Fox has lost the designation of primary backup catcher — and he's fine with that. Backing up Matt Wieters, Fox started just six of the club's first 47 games behind the plate and started an additional four in left field.

On Thursday, the utility player made his first 2011 start at first base and hopes he'll be able to move around the diamond more now that someone else can fill in for Wieters if needed.

"I always kind of felt a bit handcuffed by being the backup catcher. I felt there was times I could have been used that I wasn't used because I was the backup catcher. I think this gives us a little more freedom now because we have three catchers here," Fox said. "I always felt that would give [manager Buck Showalter] the freedom to use his players how he wanted to and how he needed to. Hopefully, that will translate in more at-bats for me."

When Fox was called into Showalter's office Wednesday, he thought the worst: that he had been traded or released by a team he really likes.

"I thought, with my past experiences — this is my third organization — I thought I was going to get moved or going to get something," said Fox, who has hit .196 with two homers in 46 at-bats. "And that would have been disappointing."

Instead, Showalter told Fox the move should mean more playing time. And, true to his word, Fox was in the starting lineup Thursday along with Tatum.

"This is beneficial for everybody," Showalter said. "It's going to give us some more flexibility. It's kind of hurt Jake some [without Tatum] because we had to hold him out in case something happened with Matt."

Getting to .500

Showalter has said repeatedly that the Orioles shouldn't be content playing .500 baseball. But considering the injuries they've encountered, as well as early offensive struggles, the club felt pretty good heading to the West Coast on Thursday night with a 24-24 record.

"It's a mark you have to hit and pass if you want to be a part of this, to have some fun in September and October," Showalter said. "I don't think anyone's won the World Series under it."

It's the first time the Orioles have been at .500 since May 1, when they were 13-13. They weren't at .500 in all of 2010. They haven't had a .500-or-better season since 1997.

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