Washington Nationals catcher Matt Wieters knows that the Orioles are in the midst of a pitching crisis. He hasn’t been away so long that he doesn’t read the box scores to see how his friends and former teammates are doing and, well, his old team plays only about 35 miles from his new one.
Beyond that, however, it’s not as if he’s in a position to help.
Several of the pitchers he helped guide through the early stages of their careers are still in Baltimore and a couple of them struggled mightily through the first half of the season, but he said recently that it’s difficult to have any real insight into what’s gone wrong without being there behind the plate.
“It’s hard for me,” he said. “I will check the box scores, but I can’t see anything. I’m a visual guy, so I can’t say what’s happening unless I’m actually watching every pitch and being in there catching every pitch. I know the numbers have come a long way and the stats, but I need to see visually what it is looking like to me.”
“Gaus has a great arm,’’ Wieters said. “He’s gone through his ups and downs, and he’s been able to right the ship. It’s about figuring out who you are as a pitcher and being able to run with that. That’s the thing you see with the guys who pitch for a long time. They figure out who they are and are able to enhance their strengths and put their weaknesses on the back burner, or make those their strengths.”
What he does know is that the largely homegrown nucleus of the rotation — Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy — has already proved it has more to offer than what has transpired in the first half of this season.
Bundy has been solid, but Tillman still isn’t the guy who was on his way to 20 victories last year before his shoulder went south in August, and Gausman has only recent started to look like the emerging star who came on so strong at the end of last season.
They all are working this year with a new starting catcher (Welington Castillo) and a new pitching coach (Roger McDowell), but none of them have reached out to Wieters for either advice or a pep talk. He says they don’t need either.
“If you are able to still go out there and compete, it’ll turn around,’’ Wieters said. “Everybody’s track record is what it is. I’d be more than willing to listen to anybody who did want to pick my brain, but as far as reaching out there, those guys have good track records. They’ll be fine. It’s just a matter of time and putting the work in.”
Gausman appears to be breaking out of the early-season slump that pushed his ERA into the 7s, something Wieters predicted during an interview last week would happen sooner rather than later.
Wieters hasn’t been in recent contact with any of the Orioles pitchers, but he did get in touch with both Chris Davis and J.J. Hardy after each went on the disabled list with a significant injury.
“I checked with J.J. and Chris when they both got hurt,’’ he said. “That’s one of the hardest things in this game. Poor performance can be tough, but being hurt and not being able to be out there and help, I know from experience that can be hard, so I wanted to reach out to those two guys.”
The first half of his first season in Washington has gone well. The Nats are well in front of the National League East, and Wieters has bonded with their star-studded rotation, which has to be a much different experience than the one he left behind.
In Baltimore, he was constantly learning new pitchers and helping them assimilate into the rotation and bullpen. In Washington, the bullpen situation has been dicey, but the rotation features two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, former 20-game winner Gio Gonzalez and two-time All-Star Stephen Strasburg, along with No. 4 starter Tanner Roark, who won 16 games last year.
Wieters didn’t sign with the Nationals until the second week of spring training, so he had some catching up to do, but he said the basic process of preparing for each game is pretty much the same regardless of who is taking the mound.
“It’s different only because of the sample size I have with some of these guys and the success that some of these guys have already had,’’ he said. “It’s still the same general process of just communicating between them and me just like it would be with young pitchers. It’s just a matter of, you have guys who have been at the top of the league pitching over here that I can see what has worked and we can try to improve on that.”
That process, of course, is ongoing. Wieters gained a reputation in Baltimore for his careful preparation and on-field leadership, both strengths that play well with any pitching staff.
“I think each game I get to catch them, the trust factor gets even bigger and bigger,’’ Wieters said. “I’ve enjoyed being able to talk with Max and Stras and Gio on days they pitch and days they don’t pitch and see what they’re thinking. They’re constantly thinking about how they can make themselves better. I think that relationship has grown to where they feel comfortable coming to me to ask a question and know that I’ll give them an honest answer, and I feel comfortable going to them and know they’ll tell me exactly what they’re feeling and what they think.”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.