BALTIMORE -- In an unpopular but expected move, the Orioles optioned backup catcher Craig Tatum to Triple-A Norfolk on Sunday morning, clearing a roster spot for Matt Wieters, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list.
"They need to carry 13 pitchers, so I am the guy that gets to take the fall," said a visibly upset Tatum. "It [stinks], but what can you do? I understand why I've got to go down, but at the same time, you don't understand."
Tatum, who won the Orioles' backup job over veteran Chad Moeller in the final days of Spring Training, has quickly become one of the most well-liked guys in the clubhouse and his demotion -- which was not performance-based -- didn't sit well with his teammates or interim manager Juan Samuel.
"He deserves to be up here," Samuel said of Tatum, who was sent to Norfolk so the O's could avoid placing the versatile Jake Fox on waivers and potentially lose him. "It's one of those tough decisions where it comes down to who has options and who doesn't, and our need with the bullpen to keep as many pitchers as we can. Unfortunately for [Tatum], he's the one who had to pay the consequences for that."
Added Wieters: "Tate's been one of the better players on the team here recently. He's been swinging the bat well and doing a great job behind the plate. That's what is hard about this game. It's the business side and you have to look at guys with options and things like that."
Tatum was given the news by Samuel and president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail in a closed-door meeting and said MacPhail told him he will do his best to try to make Tatum's stay in the Minors a quick one.
"You just can't make promises, though, because you don't know how these things are going to unfold," MacPhail said when asked about Tatum's future and how a potential trades could free up a roster spot.
"We made it clear to him that we really felt like he certainly played to the level that showed he was capable of handling the job that we asked him to handle."
Tatum batted .271 with five RBIs and was praised for his work with the O's young pitching staff. He has received the bulk of playing time with Wieters on the DL, but the Orioles would almost certainly lose Fox by exposing him to the waiver wire, given that he can play multiple positions and has been effective, hitting three homers and five RBIs in his first 15 games with Baltimore.
"All the time I've been in baseball, sometimes the hardest thing for players to really get their arms around is sometimes things happen to them that really don't have a lot to do with their performance," MacPhail said.
"[A short bench] increases the desire for having your position players be as flexible as possible and play other positions. Jake can play first, third, left, catch and he's out of options."
MacPhail also said the Orioles had considered putting Tatum -- who exited the seventh-inning of Saturday's game with a right hand contusion -- on the DL, but initial X-rays came back negative and Tatum was ruled to be healthy on Sunday morning.
"They just said, 'Go down to Norfolk and we will see when we can get you back,'" Tatum said. "It should be a surprise. I think I've been playing extremely well and it just [stinks] to have an option."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.