LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Braves catcher Evan Gattis hadn’t caught consecutive games this spring until Thursday, and now we know why: He had knee surgery in October, and the team has been careful with his workload behind the plate.
Gattis told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he had arthroscopic surgery to remove what he called a dime-sized bone chip that had been “floating around” in his knee right knee since around 2006, the year he had knee surgery known as the OATS procedure, when he was in junior college.
In that invasive procedure, plugs of healthy cartilage and bone are moved from a non-weight bearing part of the knee to replace damaged cartilage. Gattis was on crutches for two months after the 2006 surgery, and soon quit junior college and began a nearly four-year period in which he was out of baseball and wandered the western states, doing various odd jobs, seeking out “spiritual gurus” and searching for a deeper meaning to life.
When he resumed his baseball career years later, the cartilage plugs held up well, but occasionally the bone chip would move to a troublesome spot near the bottom of his quadriceps muscle, and as a result the knee would buckle and Gattis would have temporary excruciating pain.
“The doctor did a really good job,” Gattis said. “I came back good. But I had a fragment floating around for, like, the last seven years. So I had that cleaned out, just smoothed it out.”
Gattis had the arthroscopic procedure the week after the Braves’ division-series loss to the Dodgers.
He made more starts in left field (47) than at catcher (38) as a rookie in 2013, but Gattis started 21 of the first 30 games of the season at catcher – including as many as five in a row — while perennial All-Star Brian McCann was recovering from shoulder surgery. McCann is a Yankee now, and Gattis is the Braves’ primary catcher, after leading major league rookies with 65 RBIs last season and ranking second with 21 homers.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has said he plans to catch Gattis about 100-110 games, with veteran backup Gerald Laird catching most of the others. Gonzalez wants to be careful not to overwork Gattis, who could get occasional starts at first base and a few in left field if needed, but will mostly rest or pinch-hit on days he’s not behind the plate.
The manager wanted to be sure Gattis felt OK after catching consecutive games for the first time this spring.
“It should be fine,” Gattis said Friday. “It’s just a matter of watching it. I ice both knees every day, just because. So they won’t get swollen or sore. It’s preventive. A routine to be able to play the next day.”