Roberts takes a tumble, gets up

2nd baseman gives O's a scare in debut, but is encouraged

March 22, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For two innings, second baseman Brian Roberts' spring debut was nondescript, which was exactly how the Orioles wanted it.

But in one play, a seemingly harmless third-inning grounder by New York Mets third baseman David Wright that got under the glove of Orioles first baseman Javy Lopez, Roberts made his teammates hold their breath. Tumbling to the ground to try to prevent the ball from going into right field, he rolled over on his surgically repaired left elbow.

He got up gingerly, brushed himself off and returned to his position. When he took his turn at the plate in the bottom half of the inning, Orioles supporters at Fort Lauderdale Stadium let out a sigh of relief.

"I was a little nervous, with his arm getting caught underneath his body," said shortstop Miguel Tejada. "I asked a couple of times, `Are you OK? Are you OK? Do you need some time?' I was happy after I saw him go back to the dugout and swing the bat because we need him."

In his first action since a career-threatening elbow injury last September, Roberts was 0-for-3 at the plate. He hit all three balls hard, but two of them went right at Mets defenders. However, on this day, his numbers seemed inconsequential to the simple fact that he was playing again and he was already able to survive his first scare.

"We all said, `If I didn't blow out [the elbow] on that one, I'm not blowing [it] out.' Just go ahead and get it over with - let it be fine or blow it out, one way or the other," said Roberts, who admitted he dove tentatively and paid for it. "It was a little scary. I looked up at Jay [Gibbons] to make sure everything was still attached."

Roberts said after the game, a 6-5 Orioles come-from-behind victory over the Mets, that he felt more comfortable than he expected. In his first at-bat, he took four straight pitches --- three balls - before hitting a deep fly ball to right-center that was caught by Carlos Beltran several steps in front of the warning track.

He grounded out sharply to Mets shortstop Jose Reyes in the third and then lined out to left field in the fifth. All three of his at-bats were against New York starter Victor Zambrano.

"Just to have those butterflies again was kind of nice," said Roberts, who was charged with an error on a bouncing throw that Lopez was unable to handle in the fourth inning. "It's something I've been looking forward to for six months. I was anxious, but anxious to get out there and get it over with. I don't necessarily worry as much about the contact as the comfort of being in the box and seeing pitches. I was surprised at how well I recognized pitches this early."

His teammates were equally impressed.

"I told him after his second at-bat [that] his swing looked the same as it did when he left," Gibbons said. "Now it's just getting the timing down. For the first day, he looked very good."

Added Tejada: "We thought that we weren't going to have him for Opening Day. What I see today, I think he's going to be in there."

Roberts is expected to be in the Orioles' lineup again today against the Florida Marlins. Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said the tentative plan for the rest of the spring is to have Roberts play on consecutive days and then take a day off - all the way up to the April 3 season opener against Tampa Bay.

"I don't think he's in midseason form by any stretch," said Perlozzo, who nonetheless was impressed by Roberts' three at-bats. "I think what we got to realize here is this is really his first spring training game. We just wanted him to get through it. ... I think if he feels good after tomorrow and gets up the next day and he's OK, I think we have enough time to get him ready [for Opening Day]."

After a tough rehabilitation process, Roberts is hesitant to say for sure if he will be ready for Opening Day. "In the middle of November, I still couldn't put a sock on by myself," he said. "Who knows what the future holds at that point?"

But he said he proved a lot to himself yesterday, and to anybody else who doubts that he'll be ready for the season.

"Hopefully, it takes that question out of people's minds," Roberts said.

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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