Amid an offseason of player departures from the Orioles, two franchise cornerstones said they were healthy and ready to return to the field in spring training after injuries cut their seasons short in 2014.
Catcher Matt Wieters, who didn’t play after last May 10 because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, and third baseman Manny Machado, who lost the end of his season after another knee injury, each said Saturday at FanFest that they would return to action and looked forward to helping the club get past the American League Championship Series.
“The season got over last year and I’m heartbroken, the whole team is heartbroken, but I think I was the only guy in the clubhouse that, as soon as we got back home, I was ready to go for spring training,” Wieters said. “Normally, I enjoy that first month of the offseason being able to decompress. This year, I was kind of itching to get back to spring training already.”
Wieters said he’s still in a point of his rehabilitation where his elbow “could get a lot better, [or] it could slow down,” but if everything stays on schedule, he would be “good to go” for Opening Day on April 6 in Tampa Bay.
“We won’t know until we get through the whole program, but I’m preparing every part of my body to be ready for Opening Day,” he said. “That’s all I can do right now, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Wieters was batting .308 with five home runs in 26 games before he underwent season-ending elbow surgery in June. He hadn’t played less than 130 games in a season since his rookie year in 2009, and has a pair of All-Star nods and two Gold Glove awards.
Wieters spent some time with the team at the end of last season, and he is back to both throwing and swinging this winter. But both now and through spring training, Wieters is more focused on the rest of his game while his arm continues to heal.
Although he is in the last year of his contract, Wieters said that won’t make him rush back to action. But he doesn’t want to be timid when he does return. He wants to be fully healthy.
“The good thing is I can still do a lot of things without the game throwing,” Wieters said. “I can get my legs in shape, I can catch games, catch bullpens, things like that. I can get a lot of my body in shape. It’s just a matter of the arm coming around last.”
Wieters said he might only require a handful of spring training games, which would give him more time and energy to lift weights, work with young pitchers, and hit in the batting cage. Wieters said he has been hitting for about a month, an aspect of his game that the surgery doesn’t impact.
Machado, the All-Star third baseman who hit .278 with 12 home runs in just 82 games last year, said he rehabbed at the team's facility in Sarasota, Fla., before doing his typical offseason workouts in Miami.
“I've been a kind of a little bored, Machado said. “It's been four or five months and I haven't been on the baseball field. So I'm really looking forward to spring training and being back on the field.”
With the offseason losses of outfielders Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the return of Wieters and Machado is seen as a way for the team to bolster its offense without a splashy free-agent acquisition.
Machado, for his part, said he thinks having a spring training will help him better perform offensively. He missed spring training and the first month of 2014 after left knee surgery.
“Spring training is a big key,” Machado said. “It’s a key to a lot of players to get your reps. … People take spring training for granted, and I think it’s a very big key to the success in the year.”