SARASOTA, Florida — Matt Wieters has a definite goal this spring. He wants to be ready to catch on opening day.
The Baltimore Orioles star, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last June 17, is already catching bullpen sessions at spring training. He can hit, too. He just hasn't tried to throw out baserunners yet.
Wieters is hoping he'll be ready to catch on the nine-month anniversary of his surgery, March 17. That will give him enough time to be ready for the April 6 opener at Tampa Bay.
Last year, the Orioles won the AL East despite getting just 26 games out of the three-time All-Star catcher. Manager Buck Showalter says that even though the time won without him, they're better with him.
"We missed him. I don't care how good our guys that took up the slack were. We missed him. A lot of things he brought more than offensively and defensively," Showalter said.
"It's good to see him back and smiling and knowing that the end game's not too far away," he said.
Wieters traveled with the team in the last two months of the season, supplying moral support when he could.
Now, he wants to put what he learned into action. He thinks that if he can catch some games between mid-March and the opener that will be enough.
"It should be plenty of time if we can get those two weeks in before opening day. This whole year is going to be a matter of how the body feels," Wieters said. "The big part of it is getting to know your pitchers and what they like to do, and thankfully we have a lot of guys who I've caught in the heat of the battle."
"At the same time, there's a lot of checkmarks you have to go through during spring training: catching nine innings, catching back-to-back days, things that you go into spring training trying to get off that checklist. So just mentally when opening day is here, you feel ready to play baseball," he said.
Showalter will let Wieters catch in Baltimore's first intrasquad game on March 1, but will make sure basestealing isn't allowed. He'll also have him catch bullpen sessions, and will have Wieters serve as the designated hitter in early games.
"I don't want to get to the 17th and him catch three innings the first time. I want him to catch five, six, seven out of the chute," Showalter said. "He's doing everything except throwing 100 percent to the bases. That's it. He's ready. His legs should come quickly."
Wieters is one of 11 Orioles who can be free agents after this season. That doesn't enter his mind, he insists.
"Our goal every year no matter who's in this clubhouse is to go out there and win the division and win it all. That's our goal no matter what contract situations are up and it's the same thing this year. This year more than anything, I have more of an appreciation and more of an excitement about the opportunity to go out and play," Wieters said.
NOTES: The Orioles completed their January trade to the Pittsburgh Pirates for OF Travis Snider by sending minor league pitcher Steven Brault to Pittsburgh. . INF Paul Janish reported to camp eight days after surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow. He thinks he'll be ready to play in three to four weeks.
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