Braves catcher Gattis heads to 15-day DL with back injury

Braves catcher Evan Gattis will head to the 15-day disabled list with a bulging thoracic disc.

Alex Brandon/AP

The Atlanta Braves’ struggling lineup will have to make due without catcher Evan Gattis, one of its most productive hitters this season, for an extended period of time. 

The Braves’ medical staff revealed MRI results showed Gattis has a bulging thoracic disc and will head to the 15-day disabled list, per a team announcement. A corresponding roster move will be announced prior to Tuesday night’s game against the New York Mets. 

Gattis is scheduled to receive an epidural as soon as Tuesday.

"I’m not sure what the timetable will be, but I don’t think it’ll be too long term, said Gattis, who has emerged as an NL All-Star candidate this season. "Obviously disappointing, but I’m just ready to get back as soon as I can."

Gattis injured the disc while swinging at a changeup against the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday.

The team initially diagnosed it as a right rhomboid muscle spasm and listed him as day-to-day, but MRI results revealed the injury does, at least in some way, affect the spine and is more serious than originally believed. Gattis said that he was told "90 to 95 percent" of similar injuries to the thoracic spine do not require surgery.

"I didn’t really know," Gattis said of the injury’s seriousness. "It kind of felt like a pinch. The first day initially felt like it was kinda close to the spine or something like that, but I didn’t know. … Initially it just kinda hurt to breathe and stuff like that."

Gattis, 27, has arguably been the Braves’ best hitter this season, hitting .290/.342/.558 with 16 home runs, which leads all MLB catchers. His 2.6 wins above replacement also ranks second in baseball among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, trailing only Brewers star Jonathan Lucroy. Due to his production, he had moved into a cleanup role on a lineup that ranks 29th in runs scored.

"It’s a huge blow to lose anybody like that," Braves outfielder Jason Heyward said. "(Gattis) comes to the field every day, wants to play. He’s dangerous in the box. He’s hungry. He wants to get it done every night on both sides of the ball. Just seeing him take some big strides this year behind the plate and at the dish, we’re gonna miss that."

Atlanta responded to Gattis’ injury by calling up standout catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, who made his second career MLB start on Monday night against the Mets. Bethancourt was selected to participate in his third straight MLB Futures Game earlier this month, but it appears that he’ll be helping out the big league club instead.

Backup catcher Gerald Laird will likely get the majority of the catching duties in Gattis’ absence. Laird, who is in his 11th MLB season, is hitting .222/.307/.289 in 101 plate appearances this season.

As for the corresponding move, the Braves sent reliever Juan Jaime down to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Bethancourt on the roster originally, so expect Jaime or another relief option to bolster the Atlanta bullpen in the meantime.