O's Roberts glad to get back in the swing

Out 2 weeks with injury, infielder returns, as DH

March 20, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Brian Roberts took the first three pitches thrown to him yesterday, watching as they missed wide or low of the strike zone. It was an impressive display of patience from a player who hadn't stepped into a batter's box in exactly two weeks because of a shoulder injury.

Roberts figured to be swinging from the on-deck circle, but he showed a little more restraint.

In his first game since March 5, Roberts went 1-for-5 with an RBI in the Orioles' 8-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox. He singled off Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin in the seventh inning, scoring Ed Rogers from second base.

"It's been a long time," he said. "It feels nice to get on the field. You feel like you're part of the team."

The Orioles protected Roberts' strained right shoulder by using him as the designated hitter, a role he could repeat today against the New York Mets, depending on how his body responds.

After bringing him along slowly, they won't make the mistake of rushing him now.

"We'll see how he is," manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Roberts took batting practice for four days before finding his name in the lineup, progressing from the mornings spent hitting off a tee in an indoor cage.

"My timing was a little off the first couple of at-bats," he said. "It'll take a few days, but it's just good to get in there and see some pitches."

Leading off the first inning, Roberts failed to take advantage of a 3-0 count against Red Sox starter Matt Clement and struck out swinging. He flied to right field in the third, and to center field in the fourth after the Orioles scored three runs.

The single was lined into right field, and Roberts hustled to second on the throw home, sliding in ahead of the tag. Five straight Orioles reached in the eighth before Roberts flied to center.

Frustrated at getting underneath the ball, Roberts slammed his bat to the ground and spun out of the box, lowering his head as he ran to first.

"Any time you haven't seen live pitching in a couple weeks, it's a little different than a batting practice pitcher," he said. "But shoulder-wise, it was fine."

The injury still prevents Roberts from throwing with maximum force. As part of his progression, he moved back 120 feet to play catch before the game.

"If he does well with that, and we'll take a look at how he feels [today], then we can go from there," head trainer Richie Bancells said.

With the team being off tomorrow, the only break of spring training, Roberts won't get his first chance to play in the field until Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"I think we're going in the right direction every day," he said.

Roberts was 4-for-9 after the March 5 game against the Washington Nationals. Though he tacked on five more at-bats yesterday, he's far behind the other regulars in camp with Opening Day fast approaching.

"I think two weeks is more than enough time to be ready," Mazzilli said. "We'll just kind of break him in a little bit. He just needs to get at-bats."

They were supposed to be plentiful with Jerry Hairston traded to the Chicago Cubs and no competition existing for the second base job. But Mazzilli has been forced to divide the starts among Enrique Wilson, Chris Gomez and David Newhan.

Rogers, a minor league shortstop, replaced Roberts for the first time yesterday.

"It really only took me a couple ABs to feel normal again," Roberts said. "It's just a matter of seeing a few more pitches and having some at-bats. I don't think it takes very many to get where you need to be. I'm not worried about that."

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