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For the first time in 565 days, Fernando Tatis Jr. will step out on a Major League Baseball field in uniform Thursday night. Tatis will rejoin the San Diego Padres for their series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks upon the completion of his 80-game performance-enhancing drug suspension. He has not played an MLB game since the final day of the 2021 season.

"I'm truly sorry. I have let so many people down. I have lost so much love from people. I have failed," Tatis said soon after the suspension was announced. "I'm going to remember what this feels like, and I'm not going to put myself in this position ever again." 

Tatis is already with the Padres. He's spent the last few days working out with the team, though league rules stipulate suspended players can not be on the premises for games; to adhere to the book, he had to leave the stadium before first pitch. "We'll just try to bubble wrap him, get him to Arizona, and he'll be in that first game there," Padres manager Bob Melvin told MLB.com earlier this week.

Tatis will lead off for the Padres Thursday against D-Backs right-hander Ryne Nelson in the four-game series opener. Nelson made his MLB debut last season and thus has never faced Tatis. The 25-year-old has allowed seven runs in 17 innings across three starts in the early going this season. Tatis is a .405/.456/.918 hitter in 13 career games at Chase Field.

Here's what you need to know about the Padres and Tatis leading into his return to MLB action Thursday.

1. Tatis is coming back from more than a PED suspension

The PED suspension gets all the headlines and understandably so -- Tatis will be booed on the road everywhere he goes and he brought that on himself -- but he's not just coming back from the 80-game ban. He had two left wrist surgeries and left shoulder surgery last year. It wasn't until this January that Tatis was cleared for full baseball activities. 

Here is the timeline of Tatis' injuries:

  • December 2021: Tatis injures left wrist in motorcycle accident.
  • March 16, 2022: Surgery to repair a broken left wrist.
  • Sept. 2, 2022: Surgery to repair the labrum in his left shoulder.
  • Oct. 17, 2022: Second surgery to further stabilize the left wrist.

Keep in mind the motorcycle accident happened during the owner-initiated lockout, when teams and their medical personnel were forbidden from communicating with players. It was initially reported Tatis suffered only "minor scrapes" in the accident. It was not until the lockout ended on March 12 that the Padres could fully examine Tatis, and the broken wrist was discovered.

"Nothing crazy, I thought it was something we could work through," Tatis said after it was announced he would have surgery. "It's terrible. I feel like everybody's disappointed, especially me."

Tatis did begin a minor league rehab assignment last August. He played in four Double-A games, went 2 for 9 with a double and a triple, then was hit with his 80-game PED suspension on Aug. 12. After the suspension was announced, Tatis decided to have his troublesome shoulder repaired, and the wrist further stabilized.

"We were expecting him to be ready to go for spring training," Padres GM A.J. Preller said following the second wrist surgery. "The timing of the shoulder surgery and the wrist follow-up surgery should line up with the same timeline. He should be able to go for spring training."

2. He mashed during his Triple-A rehab assignment

Players serving PED suspensions are allowed to play in minor league tune-up games leading into their return and in Tatis' case, his minor league games served as rehab games following the shoulder and wrist surgeries. Tatis did what you would expect an MLB superstar to do in Triple-A: he hit .515/.590/1.212 with seven home runs, six walks, and three strikeouts in eight games.

At one point this past weekend Tatis hit six home runs in the span of 12 at-bats. His contact quality (exit velocity, etc.) has been exceptional as well. If nothing else, that suggests the shoulder and wrist feel good. Tatis looks very ready to step back into the MLB lineup and produce.

"He needs to get up here ASAP. I've never seen anything like that," Padres backup catcher Brett Sullivan, who played with Tatis in Triple-A before getting called up this past weekend, told MLB.com. "You guys are in for something special when he comes back. He's ready." 

Because suspensions only cover the regular season and postseason, Tatis was eligible to play in spring training, and he performed well in Cactus League games: .273/.340/.432 with two homers in 16 games. All told, Tatis will join the Padres this week with 89 plate appearances under his belt between spring training and Triple-A.

It should be noted that because Tatis spent 2018 in Double-A before making San Diego's Opening Day roster in 2019, those eight games earlier this month were his Triple-A debut. Tatis skipped right over Triple-A from 2018-19.

"It's great for El Paso," Chihuahuas GM Brad Taylor told the El Paso Times earlier this month. "... It's great to have him here in a Chihuahuas uniform on his path back to the Padres."

3. Tatis has a new position

With the last five months the Padres have signed Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado, and Jake Cronenworth to long-term contracts. The infield is full, and as a result, Tatis is moving to right field. He has played the position briefly in the past (20 games in 2021), but this is a permanent move. Tatis did not play even a single inning at short in spring training or in Triple-A.

"I feel like I'm still gonna impact the game a lot that way, controlling the game from right field," Tatis told the San Diego Union-Tribune recently. "I'm definitely looking forward to it. You don't really see many outfielders who have a really good arm anymore. I'm trying to be one of those guys. I mean, 30 out of 30 right fielders in the big leagues used to have a cannon. They would control the game on the back end. I can be one of those guys."

Truth be told, right field is where Tatis belongs. His throwing from short could be erratic, and he can better use his speed to track down balls in the outfield than at shortstop. The bat is good enough to profile anywhere. His inexperience in right field will pop up now and then -- the game has a way of finding you -- but he has the athleticism and tools to be great out there.

4. The Padres really need Tatis

Despite their big payroll and all their star power, the Padres have not exactly torn the cover off the ball this season. They came into Wednesday ranked 25th among the 30 teams with 3.79 runs scored per game, and six times in their nine games they've been held to two runs or fewer. The Padres as a team are hitting .224/.309/.384. 

Furthermore, the Padres have already started four different players in right field in their 19 games (José Azocar, David Dahl, Brandon Dixon, Rougned Odor) and those four players have hit a combined .170/.210/.220 without a home run. That .430 OPS ranks 29th among the 30 teams in right field, better than only the Royals (.358) Going from that to Tatis, even with some readjustment to the majors, is a massive, massive upgrade.

"It's still early in the season. We have a deep lineup. We're going to score runs. We have the ability to at times blow teams out," Padres manager Bob Melvin told The Athletic last week. "We also have Fernando Tatis coming as well, so pretty soon, it's going to lengthen our lineup some."

Melvin has already said he intends to return Tatis to his usual leadoff spot, so he will be the first batter in Thursday's game. This is the top of the lineup Melvin plans to use once Tatis rejoins the team:

  1. RF Fernando Tatis Jr.
  2. LF Juan Soto
  3. SS Xander Bogaerts or 3B Manny Machado
  4. Bogaerts or Machado

Pretty good! On paper, that is one of the most fearsome top of the orders in baseball. That said, things have not really clicked yet for San Diego. They're hoping Tatis sparks them a bit.

It's fair to question how productive Tatis will be after a PED suspension (again, he brought those questions on himself), though there is basically no history of prime-aged stars returning from a PED suspension in a diminished state. Big name players who dropped off following a PED suspension were already nearing the end of their careers, like Robinson Canó and Alex Rodriguez.

Tatis turned just 24 in January and he slashed .282/.364/.611 with 25 stolen bases and a National League leading 42 home runs in only 130 games in 2021. That earned him a third-place finish in the MVP voting. He has been an MVP level performer since Day 1 in the big leagues. If Tatis does come back diminished, it may have more to do with the surgeries than PEDs.