SARASOTA, Fla. — When Brian Roberts first heard the words "herniated disk," he acknowledged that he was frightened. But the two-time All Star second baseman and the Orioles have had their concerns eased and Roberts is not expected to miss extended time.
Roberts reported to spring training camp Monday and conceded that he was diagnosed with a small herniated disk in his back about a month ago. However, the injury will not require surgery and is not expected to have lingering effects besides Roberts' taking it slow early in spring training.
"I'm not a doctor, so I don't know the repercussions of what certain things are, but, yeah, I think anytime you hear 'disk' and you hear 'back,' it's certainly frightening," Roberts said after doing a light workout. "We tried to do our due diligence and be seen by the right people and get the right advice. I think we did that, and now we're moving forward. It's going to be a little slow probably at the beginning, but it shouldn't set me back hopefully for [Opening Day] on April 6."
Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said the club isn't concerned because Roberts has already responded well to medication and treatment.
Head athletic trainer Richie Bancells "has explained it to me that these are things that 90 percent of the time resolve themselves," MacPhail said. "As long as the symptoms keep improving, which they have with Brian, there really isn't anything for us to be alarmed about. We have a lot of time. We have six weeks. The position players aren't the same as pitchers in terms of getting ready, so there really isn't any concern amongst our group."
Roberts, the Orioles' Most Valuable Player last year after hitting .283 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs and stealing 30 bases, started experiencing back pain about a month and a half ago. He thought he was having back spasms, which he has endured before. However, the pain persisted for another week, prompting the 32-year-old to see a doctor.
The doctor thought Roberts had a kidney stone, and he was treated for that for about a week with no effect. A spine specialist in Arizona then diagnosed the small herniated disk. Roberts said he took two weeks off but has since started working out and doing some light running.
"I had a little setback, but hopefully I'm on the right track now," he said. "I haven't really done any swinging full speed or anything yet. I've taken some dry swings and stuff. That isn't necessarily that unusual for me. We're still going to have to take it a little slow with the hitting and stuff just so we don't have any more setbacks."
Roberts is treating the herniated disk with medication and physical therapy, and he said that has made a significant difference.
"It's already definitely a lot better than it was three weeks ago," Roberts said. "I'm in the gym working out, starting to do some running, and [today] we'll probably do some swings in the cage softly. Our main goal is obviously April 6."
The injury hasn't dampened Roberts' enthusiasm for the season. He said Monday that this is shaping up to be the best Orioles team he has been a part of, but the squad's success will obviously depend largely on the health of its leadoff man.
"I think we're all excited," Roberts said. "I think this is the closest we've been probably since I've been here. You look and just talent-wise, this is the most capable we've been in a long time with the combination of young and old."
Roberts has played 1,135 games and parts of nine seasons with the club and is in the top 10 in franchise history in runs, total bases, doubles, triples, extra-base hits, stolen bases and walks. Third baseman Melvin Mora's departure via free agency leaves Roberts as the longest-tenured Oriole. He knows that with that designation comes responsibility and Roberts is going to be looked at a face of the club.
"I don't feel that way, but I guess it is, and that's just part of it," Roberts said. "It's exciting. It's kind of cool. I saw Bordy [minor league offensive coordinator Mike Bordick], and I probably looked at Bordy the way [the young players] look at me. And that's crazy. But in some ways, that's a good thing. I've been here a long time, and I've played well enough to keep myself here."
Asked whether he might occupy more of a vocal leadership role this season, Roberts said, "It's as much as being there for them, letting them know that you are there and trying to do the right thing on the field."