What was feared for more than a month became official Monday as the Orioles announced All-Star catcher Matt Wieters will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the remainder of the 2014 season.
The club said Monday that the estimated recovery period will be nine months, which would put him on track to start the 2015 season on time. Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews will perform the ulnar collateral reconstruction surgery on Wieters’ right elbow on Tuesday afternoon after the 28-year-old catcher had his follow-up appointment on Monday.
The recovery time for Tommy John surgery isn’t as long for a position player as it is for a pitcher, but there haven’t been a great number of catchers to undergo the surgical procedure at the major league level. Sports injury expert Will Carroll of Bleacher Report believes it will be difficult to expect Wieters to be ready to catch by the start of next season.
“Normally, we see that it’s nine to 12 months, 10 to 12 months for a pitcher,” Carroll said on AM 1570 WNST Monday morning. “For position players, we say six to eight [months], but even that’s a little aggressive, especially with a catcher who has to make certainly not as many throws as a pitcher but long throws, off-balance throws.
“I’ve talked to some doctors and they say, ‘Honestly, treat him like a pitcher.’ I think it’s a little less than that. I would say you’re looking at nine or 10 months, maybe as many as 12. Opening Day is going to be really tight, even on the low end.”
Though the news was not unexpected after manager Buck Showalter revealed last week that Wieters was not progressing as quickly as he’d hoped in his throwing program, the loss of one of the best catchers in baseball is a major blow for the Orioles, who have leaned on the trio of Caleb Joseph, Nick Hundley, and Steve Clevenger in Wieters’ absence. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 11 and hadn’t caught in a game since May 4.
Wieters was leading American League All-Star voting at the catcher position and was off to arguably the best offensive start of his career, hitting .308 with five home runs and 18 runs batted in in 104 at-bats. However, the two-time Gold Glove winner’s elbow discomfort was apparent in his work behind the plate as he was only 1-for-12 throwing out runners attempting to steal, down from his career mark of 33 percent.
Joseph has been praised for his defensive work as Orioles pitchers sport a 2.85 ERA when he’s catching, but the rookie is hitting only .130 in 54 at-bats while Hundley, acquired in a trade with the San Diego Padres late last month, is batting just .147. Clevenger was hitting .243 at the time of his late-May demotion and has been red hot at the plate at Triple-A Norfolk ever since, but the Orioles weren’t thrilled with his work behind the dish.
Baltimore has pitched to a 4.92 ERA with Hundley catching and 4.85 when Clevenger was back there earlier in the season. For what it’s worth, Orioles pitchers sported a 3.88 ERA when Wieters was behind the plate this season.
“We’ve got some things to pick from. That’s really been a challenge for us in the last few years,” Showalter said on Friday. “We always said, ‘What if Matt [gets hurt]? What are we going to do?’ Well, here we are. I hope that we get some good news on Monday, but you better prepare like you’re not.”
Wieters is eligible to become a free agent after the 2015 season.