FORT MYERS, FLA. — On the day Matt Wieters played catcher for the first time since elbow ligament replacement surgery, Orioles manager Buck Showalter offered a dose of reality, saying on Tuesday he'd get more answers about Wieters' recovery 24 hours after his first Grapefruit League appearance behind the plate.
Showalter was right, though he wishes he hadn't been. One day after Wieters was cleared to throw for the first time since May 4, Showalter announced he would be shut down from catching activities for approximately a week with right elbow tendinitis.
On Wednesday morning, Wieters said he felt good physically and expected to make his next start on Thursday. But after telling team trainers of some soreness in his arm, the Orioles consulted with Dr. James Andrews — the renowned orthopedist who performed Wieters' Tommy John surgery — and shut Wieters down.
Showalter wouldn't call the diagnosis a setback in Wieters' return from last June's surgery, but it definitely puts his status for Opening Day on April 6 in doubt.
"It's still a distinct possibility, but if not then, shortly thereafter," Showalter said of Wieters being ready for Opening Day. "I don't think we are at a point yet (to know). We'll see how the tendinitis manages."
Showalter said he wasn't surprised by the tendinitis and that he expected it earlier in Wieters' recovery.
"With all the time we have left, we thought it would be prudent to just try to get ahead of it," Showalter said. "He's been doing a lot of things on the half field and throwing program. He's been doing things that he didn't do when he was healthy. There's been a lot there. His legs feel great, though. I don't think it puts anything in jeopardy, but we'll see.
"It's uncharted territory for him," Showalter added. "He knows what it is supposed to feel like and he knows what it feels like, but he hasn't been through it. … There's not a chart for that, you know. So we are just going to take a little caution with it."
On Tuesday, Wieters caught six innings and had to exert his arm just once when he fielded a swinging bunt in front of home plate and threw to first in the sixth inning. Otherwise, his arm wasn't tested in game action as there were no steal attempts, but he did throw to second base during warm-ups and between innings.
"That was challenging and it was at a different speed," Showalter said. "I don't care what you do on back fields, where there's just a different adrenaline flow, a different arm speed. There's throwing the ball down between innings. He said he felt a little, what's the word, just a little achiness, with a couple, maybe two out of seven throws. I think we don't want it and Matt doesn't want it to mushroom into something bigger than, hopefully, it is."
The Orioles have not taken X-rays or a MRI since making the tendinitis diagnosis and have no plans to conduct additional tests on Wieters, hoping rest will alleviate the soreness.
"It's normal," Showalter said. "It's around a nine-month period. It's not a setback. I'm surprised we haven't had any of this before. He's not feeling anything acute or anything. Just after listening to him describe how he felt today, (head trainer) Richie (Bancells) on the safe said 'just call Dr. Andrews.'"
Wieters, who is hitless in 23 Grapefruit League at-bats, could still participate in spring games as a designated hitter as early as Sunday, Showalter said.
"I know the plan with Dr. Andrews is to back off it for a week," Showalter said. "The Sunday thing, obviously is not a week. It's just the next time we think about DHing him. He actually talked about DHing tomorrow. I'm actually saying, let everything quiet down. He's not worried … I shouldn't say worried. The offensive part of it, I don't think it's something he's overly concerned with at this point. I'm not."
The Orioles know how much having Wieters behind the plate plays a part in their success. The team is banking on the healthy return of Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado from injury, as well as the return to form of first baseman Chris Davis, to overcome the free-agent losses of Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz.
Wieters, who played in just 26 games last season, averaged 129 starts at catcher in the four previous years. As has been the case throughout his recovery, the Orioles want to ensure that when Wieters returns behind the plate, it's for good, even if he misses the beginning of the season.
That's why Showalter said Wednesday that if Wieters isn't completely ready to catch by the time the regular season begins, he probably won't be on the team's Opening Day roster as a designated hitter.
"You're trying to do things where you get stronger each time and be there for August and September and October," Showalter said. "I think that this is that kind of thing here. We're trying to do whatever it takes for him to build up and be the guy we know he can be. With each passing month get better and better and better."