TORONTO — Welington Castillo suffered his second testicular injury in five months Monday night in a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, a freak injury Orioles catchers have suffered with mystifying frequence over the past 18 months.
And while Castillo received a promising bill of health — tests done during an emergency room visit to a Toronto-area hospital Monday night revealed no damage — it's the third time an Orioles catcher dodged serious injury when hit by a ball in the groin area.
Getting hit by foul tips and speeding fastballs is part of the job for catchers, and because of that, they are the most heavily armored players on the diamond. But but taking a square hit to the groin — even while wearing a protective cup — is a serious matter for the players involved.
"It's crazy because we were just talking about that yesterday during batting practice," Castillo said Tuesday "Normally, I don't get hit there very often and this year I've gotten hit there two times. It's a part of baseball I think. I think I've just got to wear a better [type of] cup."
In the bottom of the first inning of Monday's series opener, Blue Jays catcher Miguel Montero fouled a 2-2 splitter from Ubaldo Jiménez straight back, hitting Castillo, who was positioned low in his crouch to catch the breaking ball, in the groin area.
Castillo initially remained the game as Jiménez struck out Castillo to end the inning, but was replaced by Caleb Joseph behind the plate in the bottom of the second. Castillo went to a local hospital for tests, including an ultrasound, that showed no damage. Castillo said this injury isn't nearly as serious as the one he suffered in May. This time he has only lingering soreness; last time he could barely walk the day after.
"I thought it was going to be worse, but that's the good news," Castillo said. "It's not a big deal. It's not damaged, so I just have to be day by day."
Castillo was out of the starting lineup Tuesday night but said he'd be available to pinch hit. He won't be able to catch in a game until he's pain-free.
"You've got to be careful with those things," manager Buck Showalter said. "He's obviously available to do certain things. I would not catch him tonight for sure. Our doctors don't want him catching tonight, and we'll see with each day. They'll talk with him."
In May, Castillo went to a New York hospital after he was hit in the groin by a pitch that deflected off Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius and hit Castillo in the groin. Castillo went on the 10-day DL for the injury but returned once he was eligible to be activated.
Though Castillo entered Tuesday 1-for-10 over his past four games — he didn't have a plate appearance Monday — he's been one of the Orioles' best hitters during the second half of the season despite splitting time with Joseph, batting .350/.382/.650 with 11 homers and 24 RBIs in 35 games since the All-Star break. Seven of those homers came in 12 games from Aug. 21 to Sept. 4. Castillo has a $7 million player option for next year but could test free agency again.
Joseph is no stranger to this type of injury. On May 30, 2016, was hit in the groin by a foul tip and required emergency surgery. He was on the disabled list for a month and began wearing a Kevlar cup made by the company Nutshellz as added protection. Joseph said he's been hit five or six times since his injury without incident.
"Maybe it's just bad luck," Joseph said. "Maybe it happens more and maybe it is the protection. I've been hit multiple times since my injury and the Nutshellz product I've been using, I can feel it, but nothing to the effect of even needing the trainer to come out."
While the frequency of the injury with the Orioles appears to be unprecedented, Joseph said he's seen it occur more often throughout the game.
"I've seen more on TV," Joseph said. "It's something you might see once a year maybe, and then it happens multiple times a year. You can understand why people might try to start figuring out why it's happening. Is it the equipment? Is it the velocity of the pitch? Is it us putting ourselves in a more vulnerable state? I don't think [Castillo has] changed anything about the way he's caught since he got here in terms of setup. Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to some bad luck."
After Castillo's injury, he tried the same cup Joseph started using, but decided to stick with his regular cup because it was more comfortable. After getting hurt a second time, he said he will likely switch to the type Joseph uses.
"Maybe I'm going to try [a different type] for sure," Castillo said. "I know in the beginning I'm not going to feel comfortable to wear, but I think I'm going to have to stay with it."