On the afternoon of March 31, just more than 24 hours before the start of the most anticipated season in San Diego Padres history, Fernando Tatis Jr. was asked about his goals for 2021, a year when many wondered if he might solidify himself as the predominant face of his sport. Tatis, 22, provided a basic answer -- that he simply hoped to remain healthy enough to play an entire six-month regular season, a feat that had previously eluded him.
"If that happens," Tatis said in Spanish, "I know good things are going to happen."
Five days later, in the bottom of the third inning in Petco Park, Tatis swung violently through an Anthony DeSclafani breaking ball and crumpled to the dirt, remaining on the ground for 35 seconds before being helped to his feet. The head of the humerus in Tatis' left shoulder had slid far enough out of its position in the socket to stress the adjacent soft tissues, causing an excruciating pain that forced Tatis to exit immediately. The Padres diagnosed him with a shoulder subluxation, which is when the shoulder essentially slips out of position but doesn't fully dislocate. It was the third reported incident with that shoulder in a 23-day span.
The following day, Padres GM A.J. Preller provided an update so optimistic it triggered skepticism from people within the medical community and throughout Major League Baseball. Preller called the MRI "uneventful," reported that Tatis had regained full range of motion, stated he would rehab his way through the ailment and volunteered the possibility that Tatis could return to the lineup once his 10-day stint on the injured list expired, which coincides with the opening game in a budding rivalry with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
That day has arrived, and Tatis is expected to return, but two critical questions beckon:
Can he prevent this from happening again?
Can he manage it without changing the essence of what makes him great?