By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
8:45 PM EDT, May 19, 2012
There's probably no position player in major league baseball — maybe ever — who can truly understand the hype that Washington Nationals 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper has encountered on a daily basis.
But Orioles catcher Matt Wieters might come the closest — or at least be the best-equipped big league hitter to offer a little wisdom in dealing with unreal anticipation.
"My advice would be just to be himself. I think the hardest thing is trying to worry about living up to expectations of other people," said Wieters, the fifth pick overall in the 2007 draft and a first-time All-Star last year at age 25. "[Harper] has been a good player for long enough, so he knows what kind of player he can be. He can't worry about checking out what the blogs are saying about you, what the sports pages are saying about you.
"It's going to be great things, especially at first. But there's also going to be some negative press that comes out," Wieters added. "And the big thing is you can't worry about that, positive or negative. That's how you are going to be able to play your best."
Wieters, like Harper, was ticketed for stardom before he was drafted, zipped through the minor leagues and joined the majors to amazing hoopla. Wieters, however, arrived in pro baseball after his junior year at Georgia Tech, not after one year in junior college at age 17 as Harper did.
And they've both graced the cover of Sports Illustrated — Wieters was 23 in March 15, 2010, when the magazine pronounced him "The Perfect Catch." Harper, incredibly, was 16 on June 8, 2009, when he was coined, "Baseball's Chosen One."
"I definitely think he's gotten more press than I ever got," said Wieters, who shares an agent but has never formally met Harper. "I was fortunate in that I went to college for three years and got to experience a little bit of the process even before I got to the minor leagues. I mean, he was right out of junior college for one year. That's a lot to handle when you are only 19 years old. But I know he has got good people around him that are helping him handle it."
Two months before Wieters received his big league promotion in May 2009, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer — the "Next Big Thing" before Wieters — was asked about the Orioles phenom, and Mauer said he was excited to watch the young catcher play. Wieters said he had a similar feeling about Harper this weekend, when Harper's Nationals played the Orioles.
"Every time you get young talent, you want to see it. Different players bring different things to the game," Wieters said. "I still enjoy playing against Joe [Mauer] to see what he is going to do, and all the other great players in the league to see what their mindset is. So it's the same with the young guys."
But Harper's addition to the Nationals added work for Wieters, who continually studies video of opposing hitters to help find an edge for his pitching staff.
"It's harder for me in calling a game just to try and figure out what he is thinking," Wieters said. "That's one of the things you like to see with the great players in the game, how they actually prepare and how they go about each at-bat."
Big rebound for Gregg
Reliever Kevin Gregg, who was the target of criticism last year when he blew seven save opportunities and lost his job as closer and this year after starting off the season slowly, has strung together 91/3 scoreless innings in his past seven appearances.
He's not viewing his recent streak as a miraculous turnaround.
"To me, it's just pitching. Obviously, I know how to pitch," said Gregg, in his second season with the Orioles and his 10th season in the majors. "I wouldn't have been [in the majors] as long as I've been here if I didn't know how to pitch."
One of the reasons for the improvement, Gregg said, is that he has moved back to the third base side of the mound instead of pitching from the first base side, a tweak he made last year when he was struggling to generate sink on his pitches.
"I made some changes to see what would work, I tried it through the offseason, worked on it in spring training and never really got comfortable with it," he said. "I decided to go back to the other side of the mound, the third base side, made some other mechanical adjustments from there."
Tejada with Norfolk
Infielder Miguel Tejada, who was signed this month to a minor league deal and was playing at extended spring training in Sarasota, Fla., has reported to Triple-A Norfolk.
He will be eligible to play Sunday, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said there's no specific plan on what he'll do for the Tides, except get a chance to play.
"I haven't seen him play, just heard everything seemed to be going OK," Showalter said. "There was a need in Norfolk, and he was ready to go. We'll kind of see how everything goes. There are no real concrete plans, kind of wait and see."
At this point, Tejada, who turns 38 on Friday, likely will play at third base and designated hitter when he is in the lineup. Last year, Tejada played third base, shortstop and second base while hitting .239 with four homers in 91 games for the San Francisco Giants.
Around the horn
Nick Markakis entered Saturday with the second-highest average (.355) in interleague play among active American League qualifying hitters. The Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia was first with a .356 average. … The Orioles signed 35-year-old outfielder Lew Ford to a minor league deal and sent him to Norfolk. Ford, who had been in the independent Atlantic League and hasn't played in the majors since 2007, had two hits in his Tides debut Friday night. … Former Oriole Billy Ripken was the color analyst for Fox Sports' broadcast of the Orioles-Nationals game Saturday. … Former UFC champion Chuck Liddell threw out the ceremonial first pitch. He has also done it in Baltimore. ... Adam Jones' first-inning single gave him a season-high 11-game hitting streak.
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