The Orioles made a slightly surprising – but justifiable – move Monday, sending reserve catcher Caleb Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk when starter Matt Wieters was removed from the paternity list.
Francisco Pena, who was recalled when Wieters was placed on the paternity list (Wieters’ second son was born Saturday) will remain with the big league team.
The surprising nature of the decision is tempered because it is a temporary move. Joseph will spend the required 10 days in the minors and then be recalled when rosters expand for the Sept. 2 game against the New York Yankees (the Orioles are off Sept. 1).
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said with Wieters back, Joseph would have started once, maybe twice, in the next 10 days for the Orioles. So he and catching instructor John Russell preferred for Joseph to go to the minors, play nearly every day and work on his offensive approach before he returns. Showalter said Joseph understood the reasoning.
“He’d rather not (go), obviously,” Showalter said. “(But) it benefits us and him, not only 10 days from now, but in the future, too. A lot of variables. It was an opportunity that we had to get him some consistent at-bats, some of the things he’s been working on getting back to. He’s got a pretty good track record offensively behind him. He’s a better hitter than he’s shown here, and I think it kind of gets mentally and emotionally in there.”
Joseph, who has been the Orioles’ starting or reserve catcher since May 2014, has been in a season-long offensive slump. He has hit just .193 with a .240 on-base percentage and .211 slugging percentage in 40 games this year.
In 121 plate appearances, Joseph has just two extra base hits – both doubles – and has no RBIs despite 23 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. His frustration boiled over Saturday night in the ninth inning when he fouled out to right field with runners on first and second. Joseph slammed his bat to the ground and then broke it over his knee.
Showalter said he didn’t view that as a trigger point – the coaching staff understands just how frustrated Joseph has been for months.
“Not necessarily. A lot of people do it. He’s a very driven guy, very competitive, smart, good catcher,” Showalter said. “I like Caleb a lot. Very good catcher. Very good teammate. He’s a winning player. We have an opportunity here that we may not have to give him 30 at-bats, maybe, before he comes back.”
The announcement of Joseph’s demotion came after the designated time with the media, so he was not available for comment.
Because he will be in the minors for only 10 days, the decision does not affect Joseph’s service time or other financial considerations.
Ultimately, it was a baseball move – and an understandable roster management decision that could help Joseph, a career .223 hitter with 20 home runs in 182 big league games before 2016, regain some confidence at the plate.
He’s a good defensive catcher, but he needs to hit a little bit, too – and he has been able to do that for much of his pro career.
Pena can play defense, too, and so the Orioles may not lose much behind the plate for the next 10 days.
So, in my opinion, it’s worth a try.