When the Orioles recalled catcher Steve Clevenger from Triple-A Norfolk last Friday, it seemed like a temporary move until Matt Wieters was healthy enough to catch again. But six days later, Wieters was in the lineup for the second time since returning from a hamstring injury and Clevenger was still with the big league club.
Not only is Clevenger still on the 25-man roster, but he made his sixth straight start Thursday night. Entering Thursday, Clevenger was 8-for-21 with one home run and five RBIs since being called up. His three-run blast powered the Orioles to a 4-2 win over the Oakland Athletics on Monday.
Clevenger's hot bat has allowed manager Buck Showalter to keep him in the lineup on a daily basis. And though he was originally brought up to provide a backup catching option behind Caleb Joseph with Wieters out, five of his six starts have been as a designated hitter.
"I thought Buck might put me in there a couple games to see what was going on, but now that I'm hitting, I'm not surprised that I'm in there," Clevenger said. "I'm actually appreciating that I'm in there. Like I said, I'm swinging the bat real good right now and I hope that I can keep it going."
The 29-year-old has played in the majors in each of the past five seasons, but has played more than 12 games in a season only twice. He played a career-high 69 games in 2012 with the Chicago Cubs and logged 35 appearances last season with the Orioles.
Now he is being given an opportunity with the Orioles as they battle for a playoff spot with the postseason race heating up.
"I believe that I can hit up here on a consistent basis given consistent at-bats," Clevenger said. "It's a fun time of a year to be contributing."
Prior to recalling Clevenger, the Orioles had been no-hit to cap a 4-5 West Coast trip and the offense was in need of a spark. Showalter didn't have a plan for Clevenger, but he wanted to mix things up in the lineup. Having won five of six since adding Clevenger, it has allowed Showalter to stick with what's working.
"Steve keeps the bat in the zone a long time," Showalter said. "He doesn't try to do too much. He's 29 years old. He's kind of figured out who he is and what he's got to do."
Clevenger said he has tried to keep things simple this year after he "wanted to impress a little bit" last year. It translated to a .406 batting average through nine games this season for the Baltimore native and Mount St. Joseph's graduate.
Serving as the designated hitter instead of catching has been adjustment, however. Clevenger is used to focusing on other hitters for half the game, but now he can devote his attention to his offensive game.
"My mind can be relaxed a little bit more and concentrate a little bit more on hitting," Clevenger said.
It is something Wieters has experienced, too, as he hasn't been catching back-to-back games since returning from Tommy John elbow reconstruction. Wieters said it has been nice to have Clevenger's bat in the lineup each night, but also to have another catcher to "bounce ideas off of."
"We are all happy to have him up here," Wieters said, "and him swinging the bat like he is, is no surprise to anybody up here."
Wieters gets second start since hamstring injury
It's been a strange season for Wieters in his return from Tommy John surgery. He didn't make his debut until June 5, has only caught back-to-back games once and missed five games recently with a hamstring injury.
Wieters is still cautious with his hamstring, Showalter said, but he is progressing.
"He's kind of over some of the mental hurdles with it," Showalter said. "You can do all the running that we've done, but there is a different feel to the game. Fortunately that skill isn't a big part of Matt's game."
And though consistent starts have been tough to come by, Wieters said he hasn't let it affect his performance at the plate. The three-time All-Star entered Thursday's game with a .284/.310/.451 slash line in 47 games.
"I would prefer catching as many games as possible, but that's not the cards that I was dealt this year," Wieters said. "If you worry about what rhythm you're in or you're worried about your timing, you're going to worry about it even more."