Padres' Fernando Tatis to be eased back in, play mostly at OF

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The San Diego Padres will play their first spring training game on Friday, but Fernando Tatis Jr. isn't expected to be in the lineup. Given his absence throughout the 2022 season and the three surgeries he endured in the midst of it, the Padres are hoping to ease him back into game action.

When he does play, the plan, at least initially, is for Tatis to remain in the outfield.

Xander Bogaerts, signed to an 11-year, $280 million free-agent contract over the winter, will be the primary shortstop for the Padres this season. But there was some thought that Tatis might spend some time there, as well, especially during spring training, considering Bogaerts and fellow shortstop Ha-Seong Kim will soon depart for the World Baseball Classic.

But the Padres want Tatis to focus on getting acclimated to right field, where he figures to spend most of 2023.

"It's probably beneficial to just keep him in the outfield to start," Padres manager Bob Melvin said Wednesday. "We'll see once we get deeper into spring. I think as far as health goes, a little less on his plate in the outfield than having to play shortstop. He's been through a couple surgeries, he hasn't played in a game basically in 15 months. Part of that 'easing him in' is outfield exclusively to start."

Tatis, 24, missed the entire 2022 season after undergoing wrist surgery and then being handed an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Shortly after his suspension was announced, Tatis underwent surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder -- an issue that plagued him throughout 2021 -- and later had a second procedure to further repair the fractured scaphoid bone in his left wrist.

Tatis still has 20 games remaining in his suspension, which means he won't be eligible to rejoin the team until April 20. He can see game action during spring training in the meantime, then can consent to an unpaid assignment to a minor league affiliate for up to 15 days before the end of his suspension.

But first the Padres want Tatis to go through game-like situations in a controlled environment, specifically on the bases.

"There's an instinctual component to when you play, and we wanna make sure that he checks all the boxes," said Melvin, adding that Tatis will play at some point within the first week of the Cactus League schedule.

Before a disastrous 2022, Tatis was on a path to essentially become one of the faces of his sport. He had signed a $340 million contract when he was barely 22 years old and put up a .965 OPS with 81 home runs and 52 stolen bases through the first 273 games of his major league career.

The athleticism that made him a transcendent talent is already showing itself once again.

"He looks great," Melvin said. "It's remarkable to me. Now he's one of the great athletes in all of sports, but for not playing as long as he has, to watch him take batting practice, watching him enthusiastically go after balls in the outfield -- this is my first look, first hand, on the same side with him, and I think it's been remarkable, the progression he's made with the injuries that he's had."