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Matt Wieters to return to Grapefruit League action Thursday as designated hitter

Matt Wieters to return to Grapefruit League action Thursday as designated hitter
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters prepares to play in a minor league game at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota, Fla., 10 days after injuring his elbow in a major league spring training game. (Jon Meoli)

Early Wednesday afternoon, Orioles manager Buck Showalter said seeing catcher Matt Wieters behind the plate in a major league spring training game would signify that the club was confident he'd be ready for Opening Day April 4.

After a close loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates game, Showalter announced a half-step in that direction: Wieters will serve as designated hitter to get at-bats in a major league game Thursday for the first time since he left the March 12 contest with soreness in his surgically-repaired right elbow.

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"We're trying to make sure those guys get the right number of at bats before we get out of here," Showalter said.

Despite initial alarm of another serious elbow injury — Wieters had Tommy John surgery in 2014 — he's progressed steadily in the last week. An initial MRI indicated there was no structural damage. The stiffness he initially felt on a throw to second base waned within days.

He's been throwing since Sunday, took several games worth of at-bats in minor league camp Tuesday, and caught bullpens Wednesday.

The earliest the Orioles would be able to backdate a disabled list trip for Wieters is Friday, March 25, meaning he cannot play in a major league game after Thursday.

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