Orioles beat writer Eduardo A. Encina talks about the teams decision to shut down catcher Matt Wieters with elbow tendinitis. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Matt Wieters prefers to call the Orioles' decision to sideline him from catching in games for a week with right elbow soreness more of a "slow down" than a "shut down."
Even though the Orioles catcher was shelved one day after making his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday, nine months to the day when he had elbow ligament reconstruction surgery, Wieters said he didn't see the move as a setback.
"It was more the body telling me to slow down so we don't have that setback," Wieters said Friday. "That was more [it] than anything. We've done a lot to it in the span of nine months and nine months was always the quickest possible scenario to get into a game. … We put a lot of work into nine months of straight rehab and I think my body was telling me, 'OK, we've done a lot of hard work, let's take a breather' and just let everything settle down a little bit."
Losing a week of playing time raises the question as to whether Wieters will be ready for Opening Day on April 6 in Tampa Bay, but Wieters said the move is more of a speed bump than anything that should prompt greater concern. His arm is sore, but it is strong. His legs feel good underneath him after catching six innings three times over four days. Even though he's struggled at the plate this spring, he's confident the hits will come.
"We thought the rest would be useful," Wieters said. "We really don't see it as a setback. We just needed to slow things down a little bit and let the body kind of heal on its own as opposed to trying to force through everything. … It feels like it's (already) calming down a little bit and I think the rest is probably just what I need."
Wieters was going to be the Orioles' designated hitter in Sunday's game so he could continue to get at-bats — he's 0-for-23 in Grapefruit League play — but manager Buck Showalter said Friday that Wieters would not be in the lineup that day.
"I'd just rather it all quiet down. It's not worth it," Showalter said of playing him Sunday. "We've got to start looking at this thing as week to week instead of day-to-day. I don't think it is healthy for Matt's mentality because he is such a pleaser. It will happen at some point."
Wieters said the soreness he experienced after his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday was no different than the soreness he felt throughout his throwing progression and said he went into the trainers room Wednesday thinking nothing of it. But after trainers conferred with Dr. James Andrews, who performed Wieters' surgery on June 17, the Orioles decided to rest Wieters for a week.
"It wasn't really a different feeling," Wieters said. "It was more of just kind of a little bit of fatigue that I had been feeling throughout the whole time that we'd push through and it was nothing that we were really worried about hurting it. It was more about it being healthy and strong as quick as possible."
Orioles closer Zach Britton said he believes Wieters will be back behind the plate before long.
"It's like anything," Britton said. "You come in here and throw after not having thrown for a while, you have to kind of fall back into place. He hasn't thrown a ball in a long time and going into game action is a lot different. He doesn't sound too worried. … I don't think we're too worried and we have a lot of time left. I think if anything, he's going to be back quick."
Wieters said he will test the arm on Wednesday and would hope to get into a game after that.
"I think the hardest thing is when you come in each day, I'm trying to test it out each day and that doesn't allow it to get the most rest," Wieters said. "I really thing the best decision was being able to shut down the mental side of trying to test it every day and see how it is and now we can just let it sort of relax after a week and see where we're at."
Wieters will still play catch every day and because of that, said he won't need to have another throwing program before returning to games because he's already built up arm strength.
"That's the thing," Wieters said. "That's why it's not a complete shutdown. We're going to keep throwing. We're just going to try to keep stress or anything like that off the elbow so we're not doing (throws) with high intensity. We're going to try to keep the arm in shape so that when we're back and ready to go, the arm strength should still be where we left off at.
"The strength is there to play in the game. Now it's just a matter of letting everything kind of settle down and let my elbow tell me when I'm ready to get back there behind the plate."
Before Wieters returned he spent two weeks practicing throwing to bases at full exertion and in the days before his first Grapefruit League game, his throws to second base were clocked and his times were comparable to when he was healthy.
In overcoming the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis to free agency this offseason, the Orioles are banking on a healthy return of Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado (right knee surgery) from injury as well as a comeback season from first baseman Chris Davis. Davis hit just .196 and missed the end of the season.
Whether Wieters is ready for Opening Day or needs more time to return, the Orioles want to ensure he will be healthy for the entire season when he does come back.
"Kind of just let him go at his own pace because we want him back for the whole season," Britton said. "It's not as important to have him on Opening Day as it is to have him at the end of the year. We want him to just take his time."