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Call him what you want, Wieters is a rock and a rockstar

The Sports Xchange

How do you live up to nicknames that compare you to the reigning MVP, or better yet, to Jesus?

The short answer: you don't.

A year ago, Matt Wieters was considered a disappointment.

By July, he was an All-Star.

Now, in the first week of May 2012, with the Orioles near the top of the American League East, Wieters is being tabbed as the best catcher in baseball by many analysts.

Wieters went 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBI on Wednesday and called a near-perfect game behind the plate as Jake Arrieta pitched the Orioles past the Yankees for a series victory.

Wieters caught all three games, and the Orioles held the Yankees to only three runs in the series, the first time they've done that since Jim Palmer's rookie year in 1965.

"This is a tough place to come in and win a series," Wieters said. "But to be able to get two out of three is nice momentum going into Boston."

Joe Mauer with power.

Switch-hitting Jesus.

Those are two of the nicknames handed down to the 22-year-old prospect before debuting in 2009. It took until 2011, his second full season in the majors, for him to silence his doubters.

This year, there are no doubters.

Wieters, who turns 26 on May 21, is batting .303 with a team-best seven home runs and 17 RBI through 22 games. His .391 on-base percentage leads the Orioles, and his .618 slugging percentage is second only to left fielder Nolan Reimold.

After hitting .288 with nine home runs and 43 RBI in 96 games in 2009, he followed up with a .249 average, 11 home runs and 55 RBI in 130 games in 2010.

Wieters won a spot on the American League All-Star game in the midst of a break-out 2011, when he finished with a .262-22-68 line.

Three years into his career, Wieters is off to a roaring start with the bat. That was to be expected.

But while most were watching his batting average and power numbers in his first two years in the majors, Wieters was focused on the defensive side of the game.

It paid off.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder, who was clocked in the high-90s as a part-time closer with Georgia Tech, earned a Gold Glove in 2011 for his game calling and his ability to negate the opposition's best base stealers.

This year, his leadership behind the plate has been crucial for a young pitching staff that has been the highlight of the 2012 season.

Jake Arrieta was nearly unhittable in Wednesday's series-clinching victory in the Bronx. While Wieters was busy going 3-for-4 with a home run and two RBI, he was also calling a magnificent game behind the plate against a veteran lineup in an offense-first bandbox of a ballpark.

"He continues to impress me," Arrieta told reporters afterward. "I've played with him since 2007, and he gets better and better every year, every day, it seems like. And he's really, really comfortable now in the big leagues."

Wieters isn't alone in leading the charge of young blood in Baltimore.

Nick Markakis remains a steady presence in right field and in the No. 3 slot in the order. Adam Jones is on another All-Star pace and has taken the reigns of the cleanup spot and doesn't seem willing to relent.

Then there are the pleasant surprises of talent undiscovered, such as left fielder Nolan Reimold and first baseman Chris Davis, who had break-out months in April.

But it all begins and ends with Wieters, who is the glue in the middle of the lineup.

As Arrieta told reporters Wednesday night: "The talent that he has, combined with his work ethic, his ability is off the charts."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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