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Orioles upping Wieters' spring workload

Orioles upping Wieters' spring workload

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- For the Orioles, the long wait for No. 32 to make his Major League debut ended on May 29 of last season.

Starting this weekend, Matt Wieters will again be a regular fixture behind the plate, with manager Dave Trembley saying on Tuesday that he will begin to increase the young catcher's workload in the final three and a half weeks of spring.

"I'm ready for it," Wieters said. "I'm looking forward to catching some of these guys a little bit more and getting ready to go.

"It's about that time to really turn it up and get ready for the season."

The 23-year-old Wieters caught back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday, then served at designated hitter for Thursday's game vs. Toronto. He's expected to get Friday off and will catch Saturday and Sunday, with the goal being for Wieters to catch all nine innings in Clearwater, Fla., on Sunday.

Putting Wieters behind the plate on Sunday will also further the growing relationship between him and scheduled starter Kevin Millwood. Acquired in a trade with Texas to help anchor the staff, Millwood threw to Wieters for the first time in a game scenario during Tuesday's intrasquad contest. Millwood tossed five innings and Wieters later described the outing as far "more lively" than the few bullpen sessions he had been behind the plate for.

"I want to get him a few more times before spring gets going, so we can get on the same page quicker," Wieters said of Millwood. "[Tuesday] I was able to get that first step of how he wants to pitch in the game."

With a rotation that is projected to include Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, Wieters has caught every starter this spring except Matusz.

"It's tough for Matt to catch all five starting pitchers every time; he's got to have some off-days," said Matusz, who, coincidentally, hasn't even thrown to Wieters in a bullpen session.

"Matt and I have a good understanding of how we work with each other, so I'm not too worried about it. I know we'll have an opportunity to work together. And we'll take it from there," he said.

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Matusz first threw to Wieters in the 2008 Arizona Fall League, and he was reunited with him when the pair each earned their respective callups last year. Although their spring work has been limited, Matusz said the pair talk frequently, with Wieters often asking Matusz how he pitched.

"We'll be fine," Matusz said. "We're on the same page."

And that's exactly where Wieters excels. Just 23 and poised to crack his first Opening Day roster, Wieters has a maturity and wherewithal far beyond age and experience: he understands the game.

"That's probably one of his best qualities and traits," Trembley said. "You don't have to tell him twice, he figures it out on his own. The less you say, the better."

Armed with in-game experience from the 2009 season, one of Wieters' goals this year is to make it through the 162-game grind. He spent this winter focused on adding back the 10 pounds of muscle lost throughout the course of last season, and Wieters is now an imposing 232. His wife, Maria, helped him steer clear of junk food, and Wieters' diet now includes plenty of fish and rice. He knows he will get fatigued at some point this season, but the hope is maintaining his muscle mass and overhauling his nutrition will delay that.

"Once the season comes, once it gets hot, that's when you really start seeing how hard you worked in the offseason," Wieters said.

That work won't be quite as evident in the spring, as Wieters' increased workload still won't have him catching every game. He will still be able to lift and do other workouts this spring, but the hope is he will begin to establish more of a rhythm.

"I think it's a little bit easier playing every day, to where you start to get a little bit more in a groove, instead of playing, getting a day off and then playing," Wieters said. "It definitely will be a little better at least for the swing to get in there every day."

Wieters has struggled at the plate this spring, mustering up just one hit -- a double on March 8 -- in his first seven games. He entered Thursday 1-for-15 with two strikeouts and four walks, but isn't overly concerned.

"Spring Training, you are just working to get your swing where you want to get it," Wieters said. "The average doesn't ever carry over."

Still, it was comforting to see Wieters blast his first homer in Thursday's contest, a solo shot to center field off reliever Dana Eveland.

"It's just getting comfortable seeing pitches," Wieters said of his slow start. "We've been playing a lot of [American League] East teams, so we are actually getting to see a lot of pitchers that we are going to see during the year. So, you can learn a little bit from that and take what you can into the season."

Trembley wouldn't mind a run like Wieters had toward the end of the year, where he hit .333 with four homers and 17 RBIs in September and October combined.

"That would make me happy, probably make him happy, too," Trembley said. "Those are probably lofty expectations, but attainable for him because he has a lot of ability."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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