WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A year ago, Matt Wieters arrived to Nationals camp under much different circumstances. He had signed with Washington about a week after Spring Training started, after months of offseason speculation. That late start combined with a wrist injury he suffered during the winter put him
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A year ago, Matt Wieters arrived to Nationals camp under much different circumstances. He had signed with Washington about a week after Spring Training started, after months of offseason speculation. That late start combined with a wrist injury he suffered during the winter put him behind schedule, and some members of the organization believe it played a factor into his difficult first season with the Nats.
Wieters' approach changed this winter. After he exercised his player option to return to Washington, he spent the offseason transforming his diet and increasing the intensity of his workout routine. He arrived to camp weighing 224 pounds after finishing the season at 238 pounds, a transformation that caused a team official to remark how Wieters looked five years younger.
The Nationals are hoping this more normal routine and weight loss translates to a turnaround for Wieters. They are banking on a bounce-back season from him at catcher after he struggled to the worst season of his career in 2017.
"I feel as good health-wise as I've ever felt going into Spring Training," Wieters said Wednesday as pitchers and catchers reported to camp. "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."
Wieters began his career in Baltimore, at about 225 pounds, but progressed to playing at a heavier weight as he grew stronger. He decided to cut weight this offseason, something he hopes will make him more agile behind the plate and increase the range of motion in his swing.
While Wieters continued to work on his body this offseason, speculation has swirled about the Nationals' plans at catcher. They inquired about Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and were considered the favorites to land him. They introduced plans to reduce Wieters' playing time and play his backup more frequently. The Nats brought options to camp they would be comfortable giving an increased role to as backup catcher. Wieters saw the reports, but he denied those rumors were the motivation for his improved conditioning.
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"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," Wieters said. "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."
For now, Washington is content with entering the season with Wieters as its starting catcher. He is just 31 years old, and the Nationals believe he can contribute if his playing time is managed properly.
At the same time, the Nats have been no stranger to additions to their team during Spring Training when they believe they find improvement, such as signing Wieters late last year. Perhaps thanks to this new diet and workout routine, the Nats won't have to explore those possibilities and Wieters will prove that he can still play a role in the team's success.
"I would joke with the Baltimore trainer, I always said, 'Hey, next season.' He'd say, 'This is a joke. Everybody says next season they'll be in the best shape of their life," Wieters said. "But really, from the eating habits I've put into my diet, I do feel better than I have felt before."
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.