When an injury to a key player works out - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

When an injury to a key player works out

It seems a bit insensitive to say an injury to a major leaguer can be a good thing.

Starting catcher Welington Castillo was an essential part of the Orioles’ quick beginning to this season.

Heading into Tuesday night in Detroit, the Orioles were 12-5 when Castillo started and 10-9 when he didn’t. He hit .314 in his first 72 plate appearances and threw out 36 percent of would-be basestealers in his first month with the club.

So, when the 30-year-old was lost for two weeks with right shoulder tendinitis at the beginning of May, it was a significant blow. The Orioles were 7-6 in the absence of Castillo, who was activated Tuesday in Detroit.

It’s obviously good to have him back, but I think it was a good thing he was gone, too.

Stick with me.

With Castillo on the shelf for two weeks — and only two weeks — reserve catcher Caleb Joseph was forced to step into a starting role.

It’s not the first time that has happened; with Matt Wieters injured in parts of 2014 and 2015, Joseph started a total of 170 games behind the plate. And he held his own.

Then came last year. And an historic disaster for Joseph, who played in 49 games and set a major league record for most plate appearances in one season (141) without driving in a run.

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There may be no player in baseball more positive, more energetic than the 30-year-old Joseph. But that legendary ineptitude in 2016 weighed heavily on him. Frankly, it also made the Orioles aggressive in their pursuit of Castillo this offseason knowing that Wieters likely would sign elsewhere. They couldn’t trust full-time duties to a guy who hit .174 and had just three extra-base hits in a full season

When Castillo was shelved by the tendinitis this year, Joseph was hitting .182 in seven games. He had a homer – and two RBIs – but was 4-for-22 with no walks and four strikeouts.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter likes to say that when one player is lost, it opens an opportunity for someone else.

No one needed the opportunity like Joseph. And he responded. In the 12 games he has played in May, including 11 starts, Joseph has hit .333 (15-for-45) with four doubles, a triple, a homer and seven RBIs. He had 15 hits in those dozen games, and 23 all of last year.

That’s extraordinary — but also not completely out of character. Joseph was a hit-first catcher during his prolonged years in the minors; the smack on him back then is that he wouldn’t do enough defensively to be a big leaguer.

He worked hard on his defense, made it to the majors, hit some homers and then saw his offense completely abandon him.

So, it is important that Joseph hit at this level again. It’s especially key that it happened early, and so he can draw on that experience all year.

Heck, it’s not a bad thing that third string catcher Francisco Pena hit well in his limited time with the Orioles, getting four hits in seven at-bats, including two homes in one game.

Pena survived the initial cut Tuesday, when outfielder Craig Gentry was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk to make room for Castillo on the 25-man roster. It was a curious decision, and likely a temporary one. You have to assume the Orioles didn’t want to lose Pena on waivers, but it’s unlikely they’ll stick with three catchers for long.

What happens with Pena is worth monitoring, but not an impactful storyline.

Maybe how Joseph responded in the past two weeks will prove to be a footnote as well.

Right now, though, knowing that Joseph can handle the starting pressure if needed and succeed at the plate – like he has in the past – has to be comforting for the Orioles.

And a huge confidence boost for Joseph.

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