Why Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. might need surgery

Fernando Tatis Jr. huddles on the ground at home plate.
Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. crumples to the ground after taking a swing and partially dislocating his left shoulder.
(Derrick Tuskan / Associated Press)

It was 22 years ago Tuesday that the Angels opened their season, the debut of the man who was then the highest-paid player in franchise history. Mo Vaughn, the $80-million man, did not make it through the opener. He tumbled into the dugout while chasing a foul ball, injured his ankle, and never regained the form that made him an elite slugger for the Boston Red Sox.

For the fans of the San Diego Padres, they can only hope what happened Monday at Petco Park will leave no such scars on their franchise. Fernando Tatis Jr., the $340-million man, took a mighty swing and crumpled to the ground in agony. The ball did not hit him.

He had partially dislocated his left shoulder, and not for the first time this spring.


“Comes out,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “Comes back in.”

Yet Tingler acknowledged he never had seen Tatis in such pain. Tingler said Tatis would undergo tests and further evaluation Tuesday but declined to speculate on Tatis’ condition until then.

However, Dr. David Chao, a former Chargers team doctor, said Monday night that Tatis probably would require surgery, whether now or later.

The Dodgers beat the Athletics 10-3 on Monday in Oakland to start the season 4-1.

April 5, 2021

“Unfortunately, it likely means there is a labral tear,” Chao said in a YouTube analysis he posted. “And, unfortunately, it means that he is going to need surgery.”

Tatis said last week that he had played through shoulder issues since rookie ball. Chao noted the Padres would have been well aware of his medical history in February, when they signed him to a 14-year contract, the longest in major league history.

Chao has not examined Tatis. But, if Chao’s diagnosis is correct, and if surgery is required, the doctor says the recovery period is about six months.


Tatis and the Padres could continue with treatment and strength exercises in an attempt to get him through the season, according to Chao. Given that Tatis reported shoulder discomfort after a throw in a Cactus League game two weeks ago, the short interval between the incidence of injury could mean a labral tear has worsened, the injury is more likely to recur, and arthroscopic surgery may be warranted now.

“If he has surgery now, he’s done for the season,” Chao said.

Tatis is expected to meet with the Padres and their doctors after an MRI examination Tuesday, which should reveal whether the shoulder instability has worsened.

“Even with surgery, Fernando Tatis Jr. should have a full and complete recovery,” Chao wrote on Twitter. “It is highly unlikely that his career would be in jeopardy.”

Shohei Ohtani entered the game in the eighth inning and scored the go-ahead run as the Angels defeated the Houston Astros 7-6 to improve to 4-1.

April 6, 2021

Tatis is batting .167 this season, with one home run and seven strikeouts in 18 at-bats. He committed five errors in the first four games.

“Maybe it’s been bothering him more than we realized,” Tingler said.

If Tatis goes onto the injured list, whether for a short time or for the season, Tingler said the first option to replace him would be Ha-Seong Kim, who played seven seasons in South Korea — primarily as a shortstop — before signing with the Padres last winter.

In his first 650 major league plate appearances — the equivalent of one full season — Tatis is batting .297 with 40 home runs.

Tatis is the face of the Padres’ franchise, and he was emerging this spring as a face of baseball. At 22, he was featured on the cover of the MLB the Show video game. His jersey ranked third among major leaguer jerseys in online sales last winter, trailing only two players boosted by World Series exposure: Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers.