Matt Wieters

Matt Wieters offers words of wisdom for fellow Tommy John patient Christian Vazquez

Rob Bradford
June 10, 2015 - 3:55 pm

BALTIMORE -- Christian Vazquez hasn't gotten a chance to speak with Matt Wieters, but he might want to. Wieters, the Orioles' All-Star catcher, is one of the few backstops who went through what Vazquez is currently experiencing -- making the recovery from Tommy John surgery. The O's catcher underwent the operation June 17, 2014, and finally made his return to the big league lineup just shy of a year later, June 5. Now, having completed the journey back, he has some words of wisdom for his Red Sox counterpart. "My advice is to take the rehab like a catcher would do," Wieters said. "I think a lot of the throwing program is good to do early, but there are a lot of position-specific throws. There is a different kind of workload than a pitcher has. I think that can go a long way for him getting back as soon as possible. At the same time, he's going to have to listen to his body, listen to his elbow. I think that's what I struggled with early in the rehab. You want to be able to push it and stay on the timeline for that nine months that they say is possible, but at the same time you have to be able to listen to your body and know when it says, 'Back off. Take a day off.' "I actually talked to Farrell when I was at the All-Star Game and he was big and told me, 'It's going to be a tough year.' I think he had it twice so he gave me advice to listen to your body and if it says, 'Go early,' then go early. And if it says, 'Wait,' then wait. That was something that helped me a good bit when I was going through the rehab process because I wanted to be at Opening Day, I wanted to be ready to go. But your elbow and your body don't say that all the time." Wieters explained that part of the uniqueness that came with his rehab -- and what Vazquez faces -- is that the program for recovery has to be tailored for catchers, not the usual protocol given for pitchers who underwent Tommy John. "A lot of it is based on the No. 25. There's 25 throws, back up, 25 throws, because that's what a pitcher would make in a typical inning," Wieters said. "As opposed to a catcher, you're going to make 20 light throws and five throws when you're going to have to let it go, maybe. It's a hard thing when you're starting a rehab, you want to let every throw go, but as a catcher you don't do that. So it's a matter of kind of balancing out what do I need to do at my position to have my elbow know what it's supposed to do. "If I run into [Vazquez] I would love to talk to him about things because you hear Tommy John rehab and you think a year you will be back and ready to go. It's tougher than that. At the same time I've had a lot of great guys who have went through it who were able to give me some encouragement that it will get there. You just have to believe in it. There aren't many catchers who have it, but I had three catchers that were in our system who gave me a lot of encouragement going through it." Another lesson Wieters learned, partly from talking to fellow catchers in the Orioles system who underwent the operation (Taylor Teagarden, Craig Tatum and Brian Ward), was that there is no definitive blueprint for a perfect recovery. "Each case is different so you can't look at somebody and say, 'This is what you're going to go through here,'" he said. "That's the hard thing. You're like, 'Why am I feeling this if this guy felt this?' That's why it's big to listen to your body and not pushing it, or pushing because sometimes your body is going to tell you to push it so you need to."