Surgically repaired Matt Wieters looks just like the old Matt Wieters

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Matt Wieters appears to be the same reliable catcher the Orioles had before he injured his elbow.

A minor scare in his surgically repaired elbow last month makes it noteworthy that Matt Wieters is back as the Orioles' primary catcher to begin this season.

Otherwise, not much has changed for the Orioles behind the plate. Wieters' steady bat in the lineup, his presence with the pitching staff, and his comfort with that elbow — repaired with Tommy John surgery in 2014 — are all signs that the former All-Star catcher is back to his old self.

"It's a good thing we're not really talking about it," closer Zach Britton said. "He feels good. He's playing well, got some big hits for us already early in the season.

"Now, he's focusing on just playing the game, getting his work in, calling a good game and having good at-bats. I feel like with the whole injury, everything's in the back of his mind now, which I think is the last major step of any injury — getting to the point where you don't think about it every day."

Wieters enters Tuesday's home game against Toronto with hits in six of his nine games and six RBIs. His season started auspiciously when he drove in the game-winning run on a walk-off base hit before a sellout crowd at Camden Yards on Opening Day. The big hit came just more than three weeks after he left a spring training game with soreness in his elbow.

Wieters and the Orioles never publicized what caused the tightnessin his elbow, and it hasn't lingered. He worked his way back to catch two major league games by the end of spring training after strengthening the elbow. He continues to strengthen it, and says it's behind him now.

As he plays on a one-year contract (he accepted the Orioles' qualifying offer this offseason), he's occupying a key spot in the middle of the Orioles' order, and doing more than his .233/.324/.300 line tells.

Wieters has worked some of the best at-bats among the Orioles this year. His 10-pitch at-bat that led to an RBI single on April 8 against the Rays preceded the team's three-homer outburst later that game.

That at-bat wasn't an anomaly. Wieters leads the Orioles with 4.59 pitches seen per plate appearance, up from his career average of 3.94.

"Sometimes, you can not get a hit and win an at-bat and make a contribution," Showalter said.

Wieters separates the mashers at the top of the Orioles lineup from the sneaky bottom half. It's a role he values.

"It's an understood thing in a baseball lineup that the better that everybody does, it's better for the whole lineup," Wieters said. "One through nine, we feel like we have a deep lineup this year that can put pressure on pitchers, put together good at-bats and get on base. I know from a catching standpoint, if you have a lineup where all nine guys can hurt you, especially with the long-ball, it makes it a little tougher to call a game."

Not everything Wieters is doing is below-the-radar at this point, even if what he has added to the lineup is. The last step in returning from any injury is the confidence that the body part in question will hold up. Any questions about that were answered late in Saturday night's loss to the Texas Rangers.

With reliever Dylan Bundy particularly slow delivering the ball to the plate, Rangers center fielder Delino DeShields tried to steal second, but was thrown out by Wieters, whose pop time on the play, 1.77 seconds, is near-elite by baseball standards. Anything below two seconds is considered good.

"There was no better play than the throw Matt made," Showalter said. "That's a 1.77. That's an unheard of time."

The throw was on the money, too.

"I think he's back to being confident again and letting the ball go," Britton said. "That was one of the things he did really well, throw out runners. You could see when he was coming back a little hesitant to let it go, a little of the finish that you need. You don't see the hesitation anymore. I think that's the biggest thing."

jmeoli@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/JonMeoli

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