It was the first inning of a game on August 14th at Camden Yards. The LA Angels were in town and one of the game’s best base stealers, Chone Figgins, was on first base.
He broke for second with the pitch. Catcher Matt Wieters jumped quickly out of his crouch and fired a strike to second to gun down Figgins.
In the dugout at the time was O’s minor league catching instructor Don Werner, someone who has spent a lot of time with Wieters the past two seasons.
He glanced at his stopwatch, which showed Wieters got the ball to second base in a remarkable 1.68 seconds.
“That’s the fastest time I’ve ever gotten,” Werner said.
“I’ve never gotten a time like that. I think back when Pudge Rodriguez was playing, I timed him in the 1.7’s. I’ve never had anyone in the 1.6’s. Really, 1.8 is something where you raise your eyebrow, it’s that awesome. I thought with 1.68 maybe the battery in my watch was bad. I asked (bench coach) Dave Jauss what he got and he had the same. He amazed us with that one.”
While that time is considered remarkable and is hard, some say almost impossible, to duplicate, the point is that Wieters can become a force throwing runners out. He’s at 26 percent on the year and at one point, nailed 11 of 27 runners for 41 percent.
Detroit’s Gerald Laird leads the AL, throwing out 43 percent with Toronto’s Rod Barajas next at 34 percent. Wieters could quickly move toward the top of the league.
Werner, who played seven seasons in the Majors, five with Cincinnati, is in his 7th year in the O’s organization. Since the day Wieters signed with the Birds, he has been Werner’s prize pupil.
“You think about it, just a little over a year ago, I was watching him play in Frederick,” Werner said. “Now he’s in the big leagues. It’s a tribute to him.
“He’s starting to show what I saw last year in the minors now in terms of throwing guys out. He was getting to a point where his footwork was offline to second base. If your footwork is offline, your throws will be offline.
“It’s amazing sometimes how you just tell him one thing and he’s doing it ten minutes later and taking it into the game. A lot of guys can get it right in practice but once the game starts, the old habits come right back in. With him, he has straightened out his footwork.”
Wieters appreciates the help from Werner.
“Donnie does a great job of getting you the work you need while at the same time keeping you fresh. Any time you need help with something he’s got a drill for you. It starts in spring training, he does a great job of getting you ready for the year.”
For Werner, this pupil provides a lot to work with. Werner says Wieters’ arm strength is right there with any catcher in the Majors.
“He’s right there at the top. He combines quickness and arm strength, he has both. He gets rid of it quick and has a strong arm.
“He takes the game personally. If one of our pitchers doesn’t do well, he’s thinking what could I have done to help him.
“Sometimes when you have a catcher that is a good hitter, they’ll call fastballs all day to try and throw runners out. Matt will mix it up. He’s not someone that will only call fastballs in a running situation. He takes his defense first.”
Now for that amazing 1.68 time when Wieters threw out Figgins. Don’t expect to see that again much, but it does provide the catcher something to shoot for.
“Any time you can make a throw like that you want to keep working because if you can keep getting times even close to that it will go a long way to helping your pitchers out,” Wieters said.