Orioles' Caleb Joseph confident after RBI-less 2016 season

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) Veteran Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph was gushing over a spring training RBI.

Yes, it's only spring training, but Joseph's reaction was understandable. It had been a minute since he had an RBI - anywhere.

Joseph's season last year was interrupted for more than a month on May 30 when he suffered a scary testicular injury from a foul ball that required surgery.

He didn't have a single RBI in what was a frustrating and painful 2016. Joseph had 66 at-bats before the injury, and 66 after it.

On Thursday night in Tampa, Florida, Joseph broke the RBI-less streak, sort of. He hit a home run against the New York Yankees' Adam Warren.

''It counted to me. It's in the box score, right?'' Joseph said. ''I felt really good about my preparation. Nice to see the fruits of the labor come out.''

It got so bad last season that Baltimore sent Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk in late August to try and ignite his offense. The 30-year-old catcher has been working to improve his offense.

''A lot of stuff that I was really working on last year is just kind of falling into place,'' Joseph said. ''I had the pieces of the puzzle and that by no means is to say you're going to hit a home run every game, but confidence is really high right now because those pieces are starting to fit together.

''They may not fit every time, but I've got 80 percent of the puzzle now and feeling really good about it.''

With Baltimore's starting catcher, Welington Castillo off to the World Baseball Classic, Joseph is the most veteran catcher on the staff.

Manager Buck Showalter said that last year despite his woeful offense last season, Joseph's defense wasn't affected.

''It didn't suffer. If anything, it allowed him to keep playing,'' Showalter said.

''That's one of the things that people liked about him. He's never carried anything behind the plate. He's really good at it. A really good defensive catcher. He calls a good game.''

Joseph's outgoing personality makes him a fan favorite.

''He's obviously an engaging guy, sharp and everything, but believe me, there's a grind down there about it. He handles it well on the surface, but there's a lot of grind underneath,'' Showalter said.

Joseph, who was handled the still-intact regular season RBI-less streak with humor, had his laugh lines ready when he the homer last week.

''Honestly, when I hit them like that, I literally don't even feel the ball on the bat, but I knew right away,'' Joseph said with a smile. ''My first thought was, `OK, what's the proper jogging speed because it's been so long?' You don't want to go too fast, but you also don't want to go too slow.'''

NOTES: SS J.J. Hardy (back), who has yet to play this spring is nearing a return. ''My back feels fine. It's basically I haven't done anything for five weeks, so everything I did this offseason has been kind of washed out, so I'm just getting back into shape,'' Hardy said. .LHP Zach Britton (oblique) is set to throw off a mound on Wednesday, and his first Grapefruit League game could come this week. . RHP Chris Tillman (shoulder) has been progressing, and the Orioles hope he makes his spring debut on March 17.

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