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Orioles catcher Matt Wieters heats up as his playing time increases

Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters follows through on a RBI double against the Seattle Mariners in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in Baltimore.
Baltimore Orioles' Matt Wieters follows through on a RBI double against the Seattle Mariners in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in Baltimore. (Gail Burton / AP)

When it comes to a player with a track record like Orioles catcher Matt Wieters carries, any mention of his struggles around manager Buck Showalter is quickly spun in another direction.

It's not that Wieters hasn't hit as well as he hoped, Showalter said recently. It's that he hasn't hit as well as he ultimately will. But there's no need to spin what Wieters did Wednesday night.

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The Orioles stalwart homered in the second inning, hit an RBI double off the wall in the deepest part of center field in the fourth, then hit his second double of the game with one out in the eighth inning as he provided most of the offense in Wednesday's 5-2 bounce-back victory over the Seattle Mariners.

"It's very easy to forget this guy hit 20-plus home runs, capable of hitting .270, .280 and is driving in big runs and being a solid defensive catcher," Showalter said. "That's why he's been to All-Star games, and why his services are coveted — because he brings a lot to the table. You get that part of it going, I think tonight was a little reminder — really, the last couple of games — of what he can do on both sides of the ball."

For Wieters, the power display comes during an abbreviated stretch in which he has dragged his batting line toward his career levels, a stint that coincides with the most consistent playing time he's had since returning a year ago from Tommy John elbow reconstruction in June 2014.

It seems that every other mainstay in the Orioles lineup has carried the team at one point or another. Wieters' turn might be just beginning.

With three hits Wednesday, Wieters is batting .324 in May and has raised his average from .217 to .256. It's not the jaw-dropping spike that center fielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis underwent a week ago, but it's a steady enough climb to show real progress for Wieters.

Wieters says there's an important distinction between the success he's had recently and the earlier part of the season.

"I'm seeing the ball good," he said. "Early in the year, I was just going up there pre-swinging and pre-taking. Now, [I'm] going up and being able to recognize pitches. I think that's always key. Anytime you feel good at the plate, you're seeing the ball well."

As the Orioles have gotten off to their 24-14 start, one can point to any name regularly in the lineup and think of games, series, and even weeks in which that player has carried the Orioles offensively.

There have been moments for Wieters, but none close enough together to constitute a hot streak. He drove in the winning run and got the only pie-in-the-face celebration of any Orioles player on Opening Day. He hit his first home run of the season in a losing effort April 19 against the Toronto Blue Jays, then didn't have another until Saturday night's win over the Detroit Tigers.

He spent most of Sunday's loss on the bench, had one of the Orioles' two hits in the 10-0 drubbing Seattle dealt them Tuesday night, then stacked up Wednesday's three-hit performance on top of it.

His recent upswing in production came as Wieters' playing time has increased. Everything, for Wieters, comes back to his surgically repaired right elbow, and this month he has caught and played without restrictions for the first time since surgery two years ago.

His spring training setback meant Wieters didn't catch back-to-back days until the final two games in April. Since then, he's done it three times, including Tuesday and Wednesday. The Orioles have played 15 games this month, and he's started nine at catcher. It's not full-time catcher work, but it's as close as he's been.

Showalter said the schedule he's been on — one the coaching staff consults Wieters and backup Caleb Joseph on before every series — is working in his favor.

"He's got a routine," Showalter said. "Matt has a lot of input on it. He agreed to everything … but it's not a physical thing, for the most part. We are still aware of it, cautious of it and we work off of what he tells us, because he wants to be around all year. We are hoping and think at some point it won't be a part of the conversation but we're trying to be smart in April and May."

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