Caleb Joseph will never be able to erase the ignominy of his 2016 season from the back of his baseball card. But the Orioles’ backup backstop has certainly shown he can leave his nightmare season in the past.
There was certainly a lot of baggage he could have carried with him.
He suffered a severe testicular injury suffered last June. No position player in league history had as many plate appearances (141) as he did without driving in a run. He lost a salary arbitration case the following spring.
Yet he returned, and describes 2017 his season as simply as possible: normal.
With a home run Saturday and an RBI single against the Chicago Cubs in a 10-3 Orioles loss, Joseph has hit .293 with four home runs and 19 RBIs on the season, and is glad to be leaving 2016 far behind him.
“I’m not sure that you kind of bask in the success, but you sleep better at night,” Joseph said. “You feel better when you get here. You’re probably not as anxious. Your mind is a little more calm. But because of what I went through last year, I know that the game will bring you back to reality very quickly. I try not to boast in the success that much, but that’s not really my personality anyway.
"I’m glad that I rebounded, and it’s fun to play normal again. I’m probably hitting for a higher average than I ever have, really, but even in 2015, when I got quite a few starts and was playing a lot, up until August, I was in the high .270s, low .280s. It makes coming to the park a lot more enjoyable, absolutely.”
Especially lately, Joseph has been one of the team’s steadier bats. He's batting 13-for-28 (.464) with a pair of home runs in his past nine games, raising his average from .254 to .292.
His ascendance has come in a fallow period for starting catcher Welington Castillo, and though Joseph acknowledges the confluence of circumstances that could lead to him playing more, be it performance or otherwise, he's not worried about his role.
“I think some of his DL time had a lot to do with it,” Joseph said. “It may appear one way, and don’t forget, a lot of the start times the last two weeks were really jacked up. I know it appears one way, but that may be a question for Buck [Showalter]. What we can control is our attitude and effort when we’re in there, and when we’re not, you’re expected to cheer your teammates on and be prepared. If that means you’re in there three games a week, great. Five days a week, great. One day a week, great. It’s all great. I just want to win.”
That attitude is one that has endeared Joseph to everyone in the Orioles’ clubhouse.
The comparison might have seemed a bit far-fetched, but when looking back on Joseph’s 2016 season, Showalter’s mind floated to the in-game blooper reels that get displayed between innings at the ballpark.
“Every time these guys go on the field, they’re up for fodder, for ridicule,” Showalter said. “We’re watching these follies and stuff between innings and you glance up there and some guy has made himself look ridiculous or whatever — players on the bench don’t laugh much. They kind of cringe, because that can be you. And the whole world sees it. So, Caleb, the whole offseason, people are talking about the RBI thing, how he got hurt, and whatever. It takes a pretty strong constitution to go, ‘Yea, OK. That’s true.’ You guys know how he responded to it. He talked about it, made fun or whatever. But believe me, down deep, he wasn’t happy about it.
“He knew we liked him. We knew he was capable of better, especially the clubhouse and the coaching staff. And he repaid that trust. He knew he was going to get an opportunity, but every time these guys go out there, there’s that [possibility]. But that’s the difference. They want to be in that situation. Caleb wanted to be in that situation, come back and perform better.”
Now that he has brought his own play back to a high level, he hopes the team’s performance can follow suit in the second half.
“The problem is when the personal success doesn’t match the team success,” Showalter said. “It’s a weird balance. Yes, we’re happier individually. But we still know that there’s still work to be done as a collective group. That’s what you have to try to balance, because we’re here to win games. If that was the only thing you worried about, you wouldn’t care. But I’m heavily invested in this team. I want to play in the playoffs again. It’s so much, two out of the three years I’ve been here playing in the playoffs. It’s like a drug you can’t buy. You have to earn it and that’s what I’m playing for, so if I go 0-for-4 and we win, it’s a win.”