At last, Nationals catcher Wieters ready for spring debut

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) Matt Wieters accomplished all he can on the back fields.

The newly acquired catcher is ready to make his first Grapefruit League appearance in a Washington uniform Sunday when the Nationals face the Houston Astros.

''As hard as you can practice, everything gets turned up about 20 percent at least when you get into the game,'' Wieters said.

Washington signed Wieters to a two-year contract shortly before the start of Grapefruit League play. He's spent the past two weeks working in the batting cages. He says the cut wrist from a broken glass bottle at his home in November hasn't hampered him this spring.

A career .256 hitter over eight seasons with Baltimore, Wieters estimates he's taken only a half-dozen at-bats off live pitching on the back fields this spring. He figures 20 to 30 Grapefruit League at-bats and seven to nine catching appearances will have him ready for the season.

Abbreviated springs are nothing new for Wieters. Elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2014 limited him during spring training in 2015. Soreness in that same elbow last year slowed his progress.

''I kind of have a little too much experience in figuring out how short of time I need,'' Wieters said.

Wieters is a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner. His availability creates a further backlog at catcher for the Nationals.

''How he responds is going to have an effect on the other catchers because right now we have too many catchers - if there is such a thing,'' Baker said.

Derek Norris was acquired in a trade with San Diego before Wieters signed and was expected to be the catcher. Now there's talk Norris might be traded.

Jose Lobaton caught at least 39 games in each of his three seasons with the Nationals. Pedro Severino, the team's catcher of the future, started eight games behind the plate last season for Washington.

Baker says that getting all of them ready for the start of the season will likely mean some starts in minor league games.

''I'll figure it out,'' he said.

Wieters hit more than 20 home runs every season from 2011-2013. Baker called Wieters a smart player but acknowledges he hasn't seen much of him this spring. That soon changes.

''Even though it's spring training, games are fun,'' Wieters said. ''Especially when you are trying to learn, see what needs to be worked on, see what feels good and gives you kind of a guideline where the extra work's needed.''

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