When he met with reporters at WinterFest in Washington, D.C. in December, Nationals’ catcher Matt Wieters talked openly about getting in the best shape possible, changing his workout regimen and diet as he prepared for his second season behind the plate in the nation’s capital.
Coming off a disappointing 2017 season which saw him post a .225/.288/.344 line with 20 doubles and 10 home runs over 123 games and 465 plate appearances in a -0.2 fWAR campaign, Wieters said he was determined to bounce back in 2018 after exercising the 1-year/$10.5M option included in the deal he signed with the Nationals the previous Spring.
“I tried to clean up some eating habits,” the 31-year-old backstop explained, “and actually got to the workout plan a little bit earlier this year than even I would before some injuries in the past have kind of slowed me down. I feel good. I do feel like some of the cleaning up the diet a little bit has made me feel a lot better.”
“I think I got to a point in my career where it’s time to continue trying to improve and I thought that the eating plan may be a good way that I can kind of extend the career as well as kind of turn back the clock a little bit.”
While he wouldn’t blame injury issues for his struggles, Wieters did get off to a late start, signing with the Nationals in late February after suffering a laceration to his left forearm which required stitches, setting back his offseason regimen.
This time around, he said, he is healthy for the first time in years.
“The most exciting thing about this offseason is that I’m actually healthy for the first time since before Tommy John in 2014, kind of going through my idea of what a normal offseason was before that,” Wieters said.
When he arrived in Spring Training yesterday, Wieters once again discussed the work he’d done this winter to get in shape for a second run with the Nationals.
“I feel as good health-wise as I’ve ever felt going into Spring Training,” he told reporters, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.
“You can never know if it translates to results or not, but I’m just glad I felt better this offseason and feel better this Spring than I did last Spring.”
While he’s been working to get in shape for the 2018 campaign, the Nationals have been at least discussing the possibility of acquiring catching, with J.T. Realmuto of the Miami Marlins a target according to multiple reports.
Wieters said he’s aware of the chatter, but staying focused on getting in the best shape he can so he can contribute at the plate and behind it.
“I’ve seen it all, because I’ve just kept waiting to see where guys sign and who’s going to go where, and it just seems like my name’s on the docket more than anything else.
“But I don’t like to take too much to where that’s my sole motivation to come here in good shape.
“I wanted to come here in good shape, because I felt like it was something that could help my career and help this team. I’m going to do everything I can to be the best player I can and let other people decide on the moves I don’t have control over.”
As of now, barring a deal for a catcher with the Marlins or another team, Wieters will be the No. 1 backstop in D.C. in 2018, with Pedro Severino and veteran Miguel Montero the likeliest options in camp competing for the backup job.
Whoever wins the job will get significant starts, with the Nationals this winter saying they intend to play Wieters less to maximize his output and keep him as healthy as possible.
“We think Wieters is going to be a bounce-back candidate this year,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained when he spoke to reporters this winter. “He caught a lot of games for us last year, we’d like to curtail that a little bit.”
“We’d like to whittle that down and make him more comfortable in that 90+ range,” Rizzo explained further in an MLB Network Radio interview from the Winter Meetings.
“I think he’ll be much more effective, specifically at the end of the season, but it’s a problem because our pitchers want to throw to him.”
As of mid-December, neither Rizzo or new skipper Dave Martinez had discussed their plan with Wieters, who said he was preparing to play as much as possible.
“I’m kind of trying to go the other way, where I’m trying to get myself in even better shape and even better where I feel like I can catch more,” he explained at WinterFest.
“I like being behind the plate. It’s tough for me not to go feeling like going into the season that 120-130 [games] isn’t the goal for me.”
Will the Nationals stick to that plan? Is Severino ready to play 70+ games in the majors? Is Montero, 34, who put up a combined .216/.310/.346 line with six doubles and six homers over 76 games and 213 PAs for the Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 still up to starting on a regular basis for a team with World Series aspirations?