The Orioles made a surprising roster move Thursday before opening their four-game series at Fenway Park, sending veteran catcher Caleb Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk and recalling Andrew Susac to replace him.
Joseph, who entered the season as the team’s starting catcher for the first time in his career, had lost playing time to touted rookie backstop Chance Sisco and was hitting just .182/.203/.325 in 24 games with the Orioles, even though he was batting .280 over his past seven games.
Joseph, 31, has been a sure-handed defensive catcher over his career, but has already been charged with four errors this season in 23 starts behind the plate, including two in his past six starts. He has thrown out just four of 19 potential base stealers this season.
“Just thought it would be best for everybody concerned,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Andrew has been doing well. Caleb, I think, could use a little break and kind of get back to some things he’s capable of. Get some consistent at-bats. Something we’ve been thinking about and just decided the time was best for him and Andrew. I’m sure Andrew’s excited about it. Somebody’s not and somebody is. He’s been working hard, too, to get an opportunity, so we’ll see.”
Showalter said telling Joseph — who joined the Orioles in their 2014 division title season when starter Matt Wieters was hurt and has been a key fixture since — of his demotion was a difficult conversation.
“That’s a tough one, a tough one,” Showalter said. “They’re all tough. But the type of respect we have for Caleb and the things he’s done here. ... It’s hard to see that. … It could be the best thing over the long term. We still think … he’s actually been somewhat better lately. Just had an opportunity here. Andrew was healthy and doing pretty well. Just felt the timing was right. Get Caleb, see if we can get him going a little bit and also give Andrew a chance and see what we have there, too.”
The Orioles previously sent Joseph to the minors late in the 2016 season after he struggled, optioning him to Norfolk on Aug. 22 before he rejoined the team when rosters expanded in September. That season, Joseph finished with a .413 OPS while failing to drive in a single run in 141 plate appearances.
“That’s what we’re hoping,” Showalter said when asked whether the club hopes the move would give Joseph a jolt. “But Andrew, I think everybody here’s hoping that he does real well. He’s 28 and picking up where he was before he was hurt and be as well thought of as he was. There’s room for all of them. The catching position is very volatile physically. Caleb is capable of being back here. I’m not going to say, ‘You’re right. That’s what happened in the past and could happen again and we hope for Caleb’s sake happens.’ I’m not going to have Andrew thinking it’s X-number of games and then this guy’s back. He’s going to try to make an impact on our club and we hope he does.”
With left-handed starter David Price on the mound Thursday night, Susac was immediately inserted into the starting lineup.
“Kind of out of nowhere,” Susac said of the call-up. “It’s pretty much what it’s always been like. It’s never when you expect it, I tell everyone. … Surprised, excited, very excited. Besides the ankle injury down there, I’ve been feeling pretty good about my game. I’m in a good place right now.”
Susac, 28, was hitting .296/.424/.537 with three homers and 14 RBIs in 16 games with the Tides, though his strikeout numbers are high (21 in 66 plate appearances). He missed a week earlier this month with an ankle injury. Acquired in February in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for a player to be named, Susac was held out early in camp with a staph infection but finished spring training strong, going 6-for-13 at the plate.
“I made a lot of adjustments in the offseason, my swing,” Susac said. “I’ve squared off my stance, eliminated some of the moving parts. Strikeouts are a little high, a little higher than I’d like them to be. Contact was a lot harder and more consistent than it was last year. That’s a bonus for me.”
Susac could get plenty of playing time this series as the Orioles are set to face two more left-handed starters — Drew Pomeranz on Friday night and former Orioles farmhand Eduardo Rodríguez on Sunday.
“It feels good,” Susac said. “You want to get here and [dip] your feet in the water and get it going. It’ll be my first time at Fenway. I’m excited. A lot of tradition. I’m glad I’m playing tonight.”
O’Day coming along gradually
Orioles reliever Darren O’Day, who could have been activated from the disabled list as soon as Friday, isn’t likely to return now until Sunday at the earliest.
O’Day threw a bullpen session Wednesday, which the team believed could have been his final step before returning, but Showalter said O’Day will likely throw another session Friday, then given a day off to monitor his condition.
“Getting closer but not quite the quick progress we hoped,” Showalter said. “He’ll probably throw again tomorrow. I don’t see him, he’s not going to be activated tonight, we’ll see. I’m not going to say no for sure tomorrow, but I’d say that might be a little stretch right now.”
O’Day went on the DL after hyperextending his right elbow when someone ran into his arm while he was stretching in the bullpen.
Around the horn
Right-hander Chris Tillman reported to the team’s spring training home in Sarasota, Fla., on Thursday. There’s still no timetable for his return from the DL with a lower back strain. … Outfielder Colby Rasmus, who is on the DL with a hip injury, continued to get at-bats in Sarasota on Thursday.