Orioles' Wieters gets bat going with 4-for-5 performance

Catcher, still searching for breakout season, raises spring average from .207 to .294 with 2 doubles, 2 RBIs

March 17, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

BRADENTON, Fla. — — Since the day Matt Wieters arrived at spring training camp in February, the young catcher has been drawing praise from the coaching staff for his improved conditioning, increased confidence and better clubhouse presence.

However, his bat, which was supposed to be his biggest asset since the Orioles drafted him in 2007 and he became one of baseball's most-hyped prospects, has lagged behind. He broke from his recent spring struggles Thursday, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs in the Orioles' 13-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field.

That raised Wieters' Grapefruit League average from .207 to .294 — not bad for a day's work.

"I think I'm making good progress," Wieters said. "You always want to get a hit when you're up there, whether it's spring or the regular season, but I've been working on some things, tweaking some things lately. I feel good about the progress I'm making, and hopefully I'll continue that progress and be ready on Opening Day."

Wieters, 24, said he has been working with hitting coach Jim Presley on staying back more on the ball and not collapsing so much on his front leg. The results haven't been immediate; before Thursday, he was just 6-for-29 with one double, three RBIs and six strikeouts.

Even before Thursday's breakout game, manager Buck Showalter said he wasn't concerned with the spring offensive troubles of Wieters or Luke Scott (2-for-30), citing their track records.

"Matt's got a pretty good track record, too, [but] obviously not the type of year statistically that Luke had last year," Showalter said. "Matt is working on a few things, too. I try to give him a little pass as far as that is concerned. He is going to be fine. He is doing a great job catching. I know [pitching coach Mark Connor] and [bullpen coach Rick Adair] have been so impressed with his game-planning skills."

Still, at least by most Oriole fans, Wieters is going to be judged by what he does at the plate, not behind it. That's why his numbers in his first full big league season in 2010 — .249 average, 11 homers and 55 RBIs — were considered disappointing for a player projected as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter.

"I'm fine with that reality," Wieters said. "Last year, I didn't have the year I expected to have offensively and a lot of people expected me to have offensively. But that gives you something to work on going to this year. You can always learn something from not having success, and you can always learn something from failure. You can take a lot of things that we want to make better this year."

Training room updates

Showalter said it's "50-50" whether first baseman Derrek Lee and second baseman Brian Roberts get into a game this weekend. Lee (right wrist soreness) hasn't made his debut, while Roberts (back and neck discomfort) hasn't played since March 7 and has just 12 at-bats all spring.

"There's a chance their return could fall very closely as far as playing games down here," Showalter said.

Lee hit off coach Mike Bordick in the covered batting cages Thursday, his first live batting practice session since the first week of the month. He's scheduled to hit live batting practice outside Friday. Roberts did defensive drills and hit off a tee for a second straight day.

Showalter said that even if they return to the lineup, they likely won't play every day as there are enough opportunities between minor league games and intrasquads to get at-bats before Opening Day.

"Keep in mind, we can create as many at-bats in the game as we want to, down below or here," Showalter said. "I think getting the at-bats is less of a challenge than, hopefully, the physical part of it. You have to be a little careful with it. [Lee] feels so good right now that you have to kind of keep the reins on him a little bit and not do too much too quick, but he is in a good place right now."

Reliever Koji Uehara (elbow) will likely throw another bullpen session before pitching in a game. He's a candidate to pitch Monday against Minnesota Twins minor leaguers in a game that will be started by Jeremy Guthrie.

Starter Justin Duchscherer (hip) has been stretching and is a day or two away from throwing again. Catcher Craig Tatum (right oblique) ran and threw, moving closer to a return.

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