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07/20/09 10:09 PM ET

Tatum in awe of callup to big leagues

Reds catcher to back up Hanigan with Hernandez on DL

LOS ANGELES -- There's a reason why Minor League players with numbers in the 60s, 70s and 80s get into big league Spring Training games. You never know when their name will be summoned for games that count in the regular season.

Catcher Craig Tatum, who wore No. 71 in camp, spent the past two Spring Trainings in big league camp with no chance of making the team. But he caught a lot for manager Dusty Baker this spring, especially after Reds regular catcher Ramon Hernandez left for the World Baseball Classic.

"I was telling Dusty at the end, 'Thanks so much for getting me into games.' He didn't have to play me," Tatum said on Monday.

Cincinnati will get to find out if that exposure was beneficial. On Sunday, Tatum definitely had to be called up to the Majors for the first time when Hernandez went on the disabled list with a left knee injury that will require surgery. Hernandez will miss four to six weeks.

Tatum got the call with only four hours to spare before he had to meet the Reds at Great American Ball Park to catch the bus to the airport. The team was beginning a road trip to Los Angeles and Chicago.

"It's been a great experience so far," said Tatum, now wearing No. 30. "It's still just so surreal. I never expected anything like this. They were making fun of me last night because I was waiting for my bag when I got off the bus. I didn't know anything."

Nothing could bother Tatum on Monday, not even the whopping $60 cab ride from the team hotel to Dodger Stadium that he shared with pitcher Homer Bailey. Later in the day, he expected his wife, Daniele, and brother, Rob, to fly in from their home in Mississippi.

"I've never seen a stadium this big," Tatum said. "It's my first time in L.A., too. There's a lot more traffic than Hattiesburg, Mississippi."

Tatum, who will back up for Ryan Hanigan during Hernandez's absence, was the only remaining healthy catcher on the Reds' 40-man roster. He batted .239 with three homers and 21 RBIs in 64 games this season for Triple-A Louisville.

"I liked him a lot in spring," Baker said. "I was a bit surprised that his average wasn't higher because the guy hits the ball to right field and right-center field. Usually, that indicates he's staying on the ball."

In 11 games this past spring, Tatum batted .429 (6-for-14) with one home run and eight RBIs. Earlier this season, he caught several Reds pitchers that were in Louisville, like Bailey, Daniel Herrera and Carlos Fisher.

"That catching position, there's a good chance we'd need him at some point," Baker said. "You don't want him to be foreign to our guys. He's already foreign to theirs because we don't play the Dodgers at Spring Training. He's here to learn as soon as he can and to help us."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.