Roberts unsure of return date


Eligible to play Monday, he's not back at full strength

Brower gone


Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts is just starting serious rehabilitation of his injured groin and remains unsure if he'll be back Monday, when he's scheduled to come off the disabled list.

The club needs Roberts desperately. Manager Sam Perlozzo has tried five players in the leadoff slot since he went down, and they have batted a combined .103 (4-for-39). The team has lost seven of nine in that period and scored three runs or fewer in six of those losses.

"Well, we've done a lot of things wrong, but definitely, losing Brian is a big hurt," said right fielder Jay Gibbons. "I mean, the guy is at the top of the order. He'd been getting on base 40 percent of the time pretty much. He makes the rest of the lineup go. So I think he's a big part of why we haven't been scoring a lot of runs."

Roberts downplayed his absence as a cause for the team's struggles.

"I don't know if that's our only struggle," he said. "You know, I could've been 4-for-33. I mean, just if I come back doesn't change everything."

Roberts said he's been icing the sore area and receiving ultrasound treatments but said he just began strengthening exercises. He might run for the first time today. Perlozzo said his condition will be clearer after a few days of more strenuous exercises.

"As badly as we need him, we need to make sure he's OK," the manager said.

The second baseman spent the offseason and most of spring training recovering from a grisly elbow injury in September. But he started on Opening Day and was batting .330 when he got hurt stealing third base.

"It's frustrating when you work so hard to get back from your elbow and something else goes," he said. "That's disappointing. I've never been on the DL, so that's hard. To watch your team go through struggles and not be able to be there, nobody wants to go through that."

Roberts said he's trying to be cautious with an injury that could nag him all year if he rushes back.

"Certainly, I don't want to be on any longer than I have to be," he said. " ... [But] I don't want to play Monday and not be able to play for two more weeks."

Perlozzo tried a fifth leadoff replacement last night in Chris Gomez, who went 0-for-4. "I think that Chris is a veteran guy that puts the ball in play and you know, you have to work to get him out," he said before the game.

Conine deal on hold

The Orioles have had serious discussions about trading Jeff Conine to the Chicago Cubs for a pitcher, but any deal is likely on hold until the health of the club improves, team and industry sources said.

With Roberts, Javy Lopez and David Newhan on the disabled list, the Orioles would be left short-handed without Conine, who has started 15 games at first base and 11 in left field. His versatility interests the Cubs, who are looking for a right-handed bat with Derrek Lee injured.

The two clubs also discussed Kevin Millar, but the Cubs prefer Conine, according to an industry source, because he is a better defensive outfielder.

Conine, 39, would have to approve the trade because he signed with the Orioles as a free agent in the offseason and under terms of the collective bargaining agreement, no player who signed as a free agent can be traded before June 15 without his consent.

Asked about the potential deal before last night's game, Conine said, "I haven't heard anything about it." He said that if the Orioles approached him about a deal, he'd consider it.

Conine signed a one-year, $1.7 million deal with a $2 million mutual option that vests if he makes 450 plate appearances. He has 104 through last night, when he hit his fifth home run of the season.

In return for Conine, the Orioles would probably seek left-handed bullpen help such as 28-year-old Will Ohman, who is 1-1 with a 8.31 ERA in 14 games. He was 2-2 with a 2.91 ERA in 69 games last year. The Cubs' Double- and Triple-A teams are also stocked with lefties.

Brower released

Reliever Jim Brower cleared waivers and was given his unconditional release yesterday. He posted a 13.86 ERA in 12 1/3 innings for the Orioles.

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