BALTIMORE — Matt Wieters hasn’t played in a game for the Orioles in over a year, but the veteran catcher has finally learned when he’ll make his 2015 season debut.
Manager Buck Showalter announced the 29-year-old will return to the major league lineup next Friday in Cleveland after undergoing Tommy John surgery on June 17, 2014. Currently catching every other day, Wieters began his minor league rehab assignment at Double-A Bowie on Monday and is 2-for-9 with one RBI in his first two games and also threw out the only runner who attempted to steal a base.
“I’m not going to jinx it. I’ve already talked about it more than I should,” said Showalter about how much he’s looking forward to Wieters returning. “You can tell Matt feels good. I watched the last two innings last night and I called him on the way home. You can just tell in his voice and in his body language that he’s real close.”
Wieters will once again catch for Bowie on Saturday before playing at Single-A Frederick on Monday and Triple-A Norfolk on Wednesday before joining the Orioles on their road trip. The three-time All-Star selection hasn’t caught for Baltimore since May 4 of last season and last played in a game for the Orioles serving as the designated hitter on May 10, 2014.
Despite the fact that Wieters hasn’t yet begun throwing on non-catching days, Showalter said the Orioles would not be required to carry a third catcher unless they want to when he’s activated next Friday. There had been some thought that the club might need to keep both Caleb Joseph and Steve Clevenger if Wieters wouldn’t be able to catch on consecutive days because of a potential injury to the other catcher. Showalter said he’s spoken to Wieters about that scenario and he’s prepared to catch a second straight game if something would happen to Joseph.
Friday marked the six-year anniversary of Wieters’ major league debut as he is now in his final year of club control before he can become a free agent this offseason.
Gausman looking forward to Norfolk
Right-hander pitcher Kevin Gausman threw 32 pitches to live hitters at Camden Yards on Friday and is expected to start at either Norfolk or Frederick on June 6.
Placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis on May 8, Gausman will throw a bullpen session on Sunday and a two-inning simulated game in Houston on Tuesday before being sent to the minors. The Orioles are in the process of once again stretching out the 24-year-old as a starter, who threw all of his pitches against a group of hitters that included Wieters and Clevenger on Friday afternoon.
“No fatigue and I don’t feel anything in my shoulder,” said Gausman, who acknowledged the recovery process being slower than he initially anticipated. “The biggest thing was just getting out there and getting guys in the box and seeing how my body was going to react. But everything felt good. Now, it’s just going forward.”
With rookie Mike Wright currently pitching well in the Baltimore rotation, Showalter is pondering the next step for right-hander Bud Norris, who is on the DL while recovering from bronchitis. Norris’ obvious struggles dating back to the spring as well as Wright’s effectiveness will make for an interesting decision.
And that’s not even counting what to do with Gausman once he’s stretched out as a starter in the coming weeks.
“I haven’t talked to [Dave Wallace], but I did kind of hear from the trainers,” said Showalter about Gausman’s session on Friday. “He feels good. I know Kevin thinks we’re being a little overcautious with it. He wants to pitch now, but it’ll happen and be here sooner than you think.”
Lough receives consecutive starts
The decision to part ways with outfielder Alejandro De Aza has created more opportunities for the little-used David Lough, who started consecutive games Thursday and Friday for the first time since June 9-10 of last season.
Lough has primarily served as a late-inning defensive replacement and pinch runner in his two seasons with the Orioles, but the lack of production from the corner outfield spots makes it fair to ask whether the 29-year-old should receive an extended look. He’s hitting .278 with one home run, two RBIs, and a .694 on-base plus slugging percentage in 41 plate appearances this season.
“It’s not what I usually get, but I’m definitely trying to take advantage of it and do what I can to help out,” Lough said prior to starting Friday’s series opener against Tampa Bay. “It’s as hard as anyone could imagine, believe me. Getting a couple starts and then going to the bench for five or six days can be really tough. It’s a tough job, but I’ve kind of embraced it. I try to go out there when I do get my chance and try to help out as much as possible.”
Odds & ends
Showalter decided against bringing up a reliever for Friday’s game, saying that all members of the bullpen were available but there were a few he’d like to stay away from if possible.
Minor-league catcher Jonah Heim will undergo surgery after injury his foot at Single-A Delmarva.
The appeal hearing for left-hander Brian Matusz’s eight-game suspension is scheduled for Wednesday. The Orioles would not be allowed to replace him on the roster while he serves any potential suspension.