Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph was in obvious pain after taking a foul-tipped pitch to the groin area — a sight that would make most cringe — in the eighth inning of Monday's 7-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
The fact that Joseph, who fell to his knees for several moments after he was hit by Travis Shaw's foul ball in the eighth inning remained in the game quelled concern, but hours later Joseph was in an area hospital undergoing a surgical procedure for a testicular injury.
"He's fortunate," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You have protection and everything. It seems like it's every other game, whether it's an umpire or a catcher, it's why a player's health in a game you play every day is so fragile. You never know what's going to creep up. … And we were watching him closely, because let's face it, everyone initially tends to snicker some when that happens, but anyone who has had it happen, it is very serious and we always treat it that way."
Showalter said that after Joseph was re-evaluated following the game by team doctor Dr. William H. Goldiner and head trainer Richie Bancells, Joseph was sent to see an urologist, who determined that Joseph needed surgery that night.
"I think every man can kind of sympathize with Caleb a little bit," catcher Matt Wieters said. "I'm sure he's pretty sore today, but talking to him this morning, everything went as well as it could have last night. So to be able to kind of rest for a little bit and then get him back at full strength will be good."
Joseph will be out indefinitely. Showalter said it became obvious Joseph would miss at least 15 days once he had surgery.
"The urologist didn't like some things and they went in and what they did I'm not going to get into all the details, but it's definitely a DL," Showalter said. "I can't get into — I could, but I'd be guessing on length of time. I know what they thought, but there's not a whole lot of history about, 'If you get this done and you're a catcher, when will you be able to catch again?' But it's not obviously in his first 15 days. … Initially, you thought there might be a case where you DL him and probably have him healthy for seven of those days, but that went away last night when the urologist got involved."
Joseph has struggled at the plate this season, hitting just .182/.239/.212 in 23 games. In 71 plate appearances, Joseph has yet to record an RBI after driving in 49 last season in 100 games.
But Joseph's solid work behind the plate has allowed him to be a key reserve behind starter Wieters, especially considering Wieters has caught three consecutive days just once this season.
Joseph has thrown out eight of 23 baserunners for 35 percent this season, better than the 30 percent league average. He also ranks third in the American League in runs above average (4.0) by his pitch framing, according to Statcorner.com.
Given the vulnerability catchers face, an injury of the severity Joseph suffered is rare. Catchers get dinged by foul tips regularly — and Joseph was wearing a protective cup — and they routinely shrug off getting hit, as Joseph attempted to on Monday.
"I knew Caleb was tough," said Wieters, who made his 708th career start at catcher Tuesday. "That's a tough one. Any time whether it's as bad as Caleb got hit or it's not quite as severe, it still doesn't feel good. I think you don't quite know how bad it is and unfortunately for Caleb it was a little worse than usual shot off the cup, but doctors took care of everything they needed to take care of and he'll be back soon.
"I didn't really know the severity of it at the time," Wieters added. "It happens so often to catchers that you don't often assume it was as severe as it was. But he's a tough kid who's been through a lot of grinding in the minor leagues, so it takes a lot to get him out of the game. So I wasn't surprised at all that he stayed in, but I definitely wish it wasn't as bad as it was. But hopefully everything will be fine once the soreness goes away and he will get back here."
The Orioles summoned catcher Francisco Pena from Triple-A Norfolk. Pena found out Tuesday morning while the Tides were in Lehigh Valley.
"I was pretty surprised," Pena said. "I didn't know that Caleb got hurt. My roommate picked up the phone in my room and told me [Norfolk manager Ron Johnson] needs to talk to you and that's when he told me. I'm very happy to be here but concerned as well for our teammate who got hurt. You never want to see one of your teammates get hurt like that."
Pena, who is the only other catcher on the Orioles' 40-man roster, is hitting just .200/.241/.250 with no homers and six RBIs in 24 games with the Tides. But the Orioles have placed a greater emphasis on defensive work than hitting in promoting catchers.
Pena played briefly for the Royals in 2014 and '15, going 1-for-7 at the plate. He is the son of former major league catcher and current New York Yankees first base coach Tony Pena.
Pena said being in big league camp with the Orioles this spring will hasten his adjustment.
"It helps me a lot because I know everybody here," Pena said. "I've caught all the guys in the bullpen. I caught all the starters here, so I have a pretty good idea of what they've got and what they throw, what they like to do and what are their tendencies, so I think that will help a lot."
Audry Perez would have been another consideration to join the team from Norfolk. He's hitting a robust .327/.387/.430 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 30 games, but Perez would have to be added to the 40-man roster to be promoted.
Joseph served as the Orioles' starter after Wieters was shelved following Tommy John surgery in May 2014 and the two have shared catching duties since as Wieters has worked to get his surgically repaired elbow back to 100 percent.
Wieters has started three consecutive days at catcher just once this season, but Showalter said he won't increase Wieters' workload during Joseph's absence.
"We're not going to start pushing up his load and jeopardize something down the road," Showalter said.
Said Wieters: "I feel good, but I also feel like Frankie is a guy who can go out there and catch too. I feel like that's one thing we've always preached, that we've got to be able to have guys in Double-A and Triple-A who can step in and play in a big league game, and we're not going to call anyone up that we don't feel can catch in a game.
"Whatever needs to happen for the team to win games, I'm all for, but I have complete confidence in Frankie getting back there and catching a big league game and getting wins."