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BASEBALL

Matt Wieters' reputation preceded him

Fans were already salivating over the Orioles' top prospect even before he was promoted this season.

July 03, 2009|Bill Brink

To Baltimore fans, Matt Wieters was Chuck Norris in a crouch.

They were so excited about the 6-foot-5, 230-pound switch-hitting catcher joining the Orioles, they started MattWietersFacts.com, a takeoff on a website dedicated to the former "Walker, Texas Ranger" star.

"Matt Wieters Is Such A Dangerous Hitter He Even Gets Intentional Walks In Batting Practice," the site proclaims, or "Matt Wieters Isn't Perfect . . . That Would Grossly Underestimate His Abilities."

Wieters has never seen it.

"You just sort of look at yourself and not what other people say or write about you," he said.

There is plenty being written about him.

In the 2007 draft, the Orioles took Wieters fifth overall from Georgia Tech, where he also pitched. In 2008, when Baseball America named him the minor league player of the year, he batted .355 with 27 home runs and 91 RBIs. In 2009, with triple-A Norfolk, he hit .305 with five homers before the Orioles called him up on May 29.

His first impression of the majors?

"It's definitely a little different staying in five-star hotels and getting to travel across the country in five hours instead of going up north on a bus that takes you 11 or 12 hours," he said.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley sees Wieters, 23, as having the potential to help the Orioles for a long time.

"He knows how to handle himself," Trembley said. "His poise is off the charts."

No one disagrees with that assessment even though Wieters' numbers have dropped off. Entering Thursday's game against the Angels, he was hitting .247 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 85 at-bats over 24 games. Wieters did hit a run-scoring single in Thursday's game. The drop, Trembley said, was to be expected.

"This is the major leagues. No one expected the guy to come up here and be Johnny Bench," he said. "I think the guy has held his own."

Wieters strives for consistency, he said, whether at the plate or behind the plate.

When at the plate, he looks for good pitches to hit -- something he said is rare these days -- and tries to make a good swing.

"Having gone through that hot streak like I went through in the minor leagues, it's something that you know is going to come if you just give it time and keep working hard," he said.

To improve behind the plate, Wieters studies opposing hitters' tendencies and said catching three of Baltimore's five starters in the minors and in spring training helped him acclimate quickly.

"Everyone knows how good he's hitting [in the minors], but a lot of people don't know about how he knows the hitters so well," said pitcher Brad Bergesen, whom Wieters caught in the minors. "He's great to throw to because he's so big."

Trembley said he expects Wieters to hit for average and power but isn't rushing things.

"As long as we see improvement and see consistent play out of him, I think everybody will be very, very encouraged," he said.

In the meantime, Wieters said, his coaches have told him to do what he knows how to do and improvement will come.

"It's pretty much, 'Relax, go out there and play,' " he said.

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william.brink@latimes.com

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