ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The Orioles received good news Wednesday when renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews recommended that catcher Matt Wieters rest his sore right elbow instead of undergoing surgery.
For now, Wieters will not catch in order to rest his elbow, but the Orioles plan to keep the hot-hitting switch-hitter in the starting lineup at designated hitter.
“It doesn’t hurt him to hit at all,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “That’s not a factor either way. I’m not going to give you an exact timeframe for when he will be catching again, but I think if it proceeds down the path we think it will, he’ll be catching again in the near future.”
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Wieters, who arrived at Tropicana Field just before the start of Wednesday’s game, was not in the Orioles’ starting lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays. But Showalter said that was primarily because Wieters had little sleep after traveling to and from Andrews’ clinic in Pensacola, Fla.
Wieters, 27, said he expects to be the Orioles’ designated hitter in Thursday’s series finale. He said the visit to Dr. Andrews’ office brought him good news and a sense of relief.
“Definitely, any time there's a positive outlook to where we definitely see getting back on the field sooner rather than later,” Wieters said. “You ultimately hope for, 'Hey, you're good to go,' but I think we've got to be smarter than that and make sure we let everything kind of heal and calm down before we push it again.”
There is no set timetable on when Wieters will return behind the plate, but it doesn’t seem like the wait will be protracted, an industry source said.
“It’s more about going by feel,” Wieters said. “And all the tests we did tested fine for normal pain tolerance for a good elbow. You don't really know how to treat it and take care of it until you get a good look at it and the opinion from the expert.”
Wieters entered Wednesday leading all American League catchers in batting average (.341), homers (five) and slugging percentage (.570).
Wieters had been dealing with some right arm pain that initially started in his right bicep and flexor tendon. He missed a game April 22 in Toronto with what he called right forearm soreness that developed after he made a throw to second base a few days earlier in Boston.
“It was kind of forearm, and even a little bicep, just when I first did it on that throw [in Boston],” Wieters said. “And I think those symptoms we got a hold of and got control of, and then it kind of set into the elbow a little bit, and that's when the real concern happens that you want to make sure you get it checked out and looked at.”
Results of an MRI on his right elbow were not released, but apparently there was some question as to whether the area of concern in the MRI may have been an older injury.
“I think it’s an old [injury], something that might have been there maybe from his college days pitching at Georgia Tech,” Showalter said. “You’re just trying to judge the severity. He’s not having any point-tender pain. … He was getting it treated for a bit because it didn’t feel like he was getting the same strength from it. I think he will be catching for us sometime here in the near future.”
Because Wieters has been playing the past week with the injury — he last caught Sunday in Minnesota — and it has not worsened, the situation is not considered nearly as dire as once feared.
“It doesn’t really aggravate it,” Showalter said. “We’re trying to let it scar over a little bit. It’s not a given that he’s going to have to have some form of surgery, either. A lot of guys manage this for the rest of their careers. That’s about as good of news as we could [expect].”
Even though Wieters, a two-time AL Gold Glove winner, has caught just one of 12 runners attempting to steal this year, well below his career average of 33 percent, he said the discomfort hasn’t affected his throws.
“I’m not going to say it was hindering my throwing. It just didn’t feel as comfortable as it normally does when throwing to second base,” Wieters said. “It wasn’t really pain, but at the same time, just knowing that something is not quite right.”
Wieters has played 130 or more games every year since his first full season with the Orioles in 2010. He entered Wednesday having already missed seven of the Orioles’ 30 games this year.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.