SARASOTA, Fla.—Check out stories about Andrew Susac and you’ll find injuries and illnesses mentioned prominently. With the San Francisco Giants, he had thumb, ankle and wrist injuries. When Susac moved on to the Milwaukee Brewers, it was headaches.
Last year with the Orioles, Susac contracted a staph infection during spring training. When he was with Triple-A Norfolk, he had an ankle injury and a season-ending fractured wrist.
After clearing waivers, Susac is back with the Orioles, trying to make the team. In 2018, Susac had a strong offensive spring after recovering from the staph infection but went down to Norfolk to start the season.
The 28-year-old catcher started in Tuesday’s game and was 2-for-2. He’s 3-for-9 this spring.
“Being healthy’s always been a struggle for me, so knock on wood, we’re on the right track now,” Susac said.
Susac is one of six catchers in camp. None is considered a sure thing to make the team.
Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns, have the most time with the Orioles. Susac, Carlos Perez and Jesus Sucre, who was a late arrival because of visa issues, have major league experience but aren’t on the 40-man roster. Rookie Martin Cervenka also is in camp
Susac has caught 84 major league games, fewer than Perez or Sucre, but that doesn’t stop him from thinking he’s got a chance to be the team’s starting catcher.
“I don’t think anyone ever goes out there and says, ‘I want to play just to win the backup job,’” Susac said.
Susac says he likes the vibe among the catchers.
“It’s nice to do it with good guys,” Susac said. “It makes the competition fun. Beating your heads against each other is no fun. Everyone here is on the same page. We’re having fun with it.”
A year ago, Susac had 151 at-bats between the Tides and Orioles. He batted .115 in nine games with the Orioles.
“I thought last year I had a pretty dang good year for circumstances that were handed to me,” Susac said. “I felt like offensively, at least in Triple-A, I got back to the player I used to be and felt pretty good at the plate and catching felt great as well.
“If the injuries weren’t there, I’d say it was a dang successful year. It’s hard to go to sleep at night, and say, I’m happy with that, 150 at-bats. It’s just not good. It’s not going to cut it. I’ve got to do what I can do, stay on the field, barring any freak injury, broken bones or things like that. It just seems to be a curse right now. I’m trying to get rid of it.”
Susac’s season ended with a broken wrist in late July. He was placed on the restricted list because he left Norfolk without the Orioles’ permission. It was a difficult end to the season. He hoped to get more time in the majors, but felt he really wasn’t ready to play at the major league level when the Orioles summoned him in mid-May when they optioned Caleb Joseph to the Tides.
“It was tough. I’m not an excuse-maker, but I sprained my ankle,” Susac said. “I get two rehab games, and I get called up. I just flat out don’t think I was ready. I hadn’t seen a live pitch in two, three weeks, and you’re going in facing [Aroldis] Chapman in the ninth inning.
“At the end of the day, you can look at the stats and say, ‘You were bad. You flat out weren’t good.’ In my role and what I’ve gotten used to is being a critic of myself, but you have to realistic at the same time. [Twenty-six] at-bats doesn’t make or break anyone. I go 3-for-3, I’m hitting .280. It’s hard to judge 20 at-bats, and then I say, ‘I had a terrible year.’ That’s kind of where I’m at with last year.”
The Orioles’ management is getting its first look at Susac. They kept him on the 40-man roster until January 11, when he was designated for assignment.
“It was a shock in that it happened so late,” Susac said. “You also wonder. You see moves late. You try not to play GM, and just keep your head on. I wouldn’t say I was shocked. I was more shocked that I wasn’t claimed off waivers.
“I like to think of myself highly and think of myself as a 40-man player. These are the cards that I’ve been dealt, and this is a result of being injured and not being on the field.
“I don’t blame other teams for not taking a shot at me with my injury history. It’s something I have to deal with every day, being healthy and being on the field. If you’re not on the field, you’re no good to anyone, broken bones, things I can’t control, staph infection, some catchers get through it unscathed. Others are like me, and it’s part of the business. It’s part of the position.”