The Orioles' recent flurry of middle-infield additions prompted questions about the health of Brian Roberts, but the veteran second baseman told The Baltimore Sun on Monday that he's feeling great and he thinks his back problems are behind him.
Roberts, a two-time All-Star and the longest-tenured member of the club, was limited to just 59 games last year because of a herniated disk in his back. He also suffered a concussion in late September that knocked him out of the Orioles' final six games and lingered well into the offseason.
"I'm doing great. I just cranked up my workouts a little harder in the last few weeks, but everything is good," Roberts said in a phone interview. "I'm as excited as I've ever been coming off a year where I didn't get to go on the field a lot and do what I love to do. To go through those struggles, that was one of the hardest years of my life, baseballwise. Every chance I get to go the gym and continue to progress, I'm excited as I've ever been. I'm looking forward to 2011, that for sure."
Roberts, 33, has been working out the past three weeks in Baltimore with former Orioles strength and conditioning coach Jay Shiner. He said he'll head to Sarasota, Fla., this weekend to continue preparations for the 2011 season with the assistance of a trainer in nearby Bradenton.
While acknowledging that he had to adjust his workout routine because of his back issues and the lingering effects of a concussion, he said he doesn't feel as if he's behind and doesn't expect to be limited physically once spring training begins in mid-February.
"My back is fine," Roberts said. "I basically played the last two months of the season, and I played like I normally would. I haven't had any issues with it. If I can go out and play 60 games with it, I'm over it, as far as I know."
That's great news for an Orioles lineup that buckled without Roberts leading off for the first 31/2 months of the 2010 season.
"We are a very different team when he is on the field. Unfortunately, we saw that last year. It's huge for us that he stays healthy and contributes the way he can," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "[Manager Buck Showalter] spoke to him today and got the sense that everything is progressing. We just hope that he comes into spring training and is feeling as good as he does now."
Until Monday, team officials had been mostly mum when asked about Roberts' progress, prompting speculation that there might be issues with the second baseman's health. In addition to acquiring third baseman Mark Reynolds from the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, the Orioles also traded with the Minnesota Twins for shortstop J.J. Hardy and utility man Brendan Harris and agreed to terms with their former shortstop Cesar Izturis on a one-year deal. Their 40-man roster also includes utility man Robert Andino.
The moves made it clear that upgrading the organization's middle-infield depth was a priority.
Roberts acknowledged that the first 11/2 months of the offseason were a struggle but said that was because of the concussion he suffered in late September, not because of back problems.
Roberts sustained the concussion when he hit himself on the helmet with his bat after striking out Sept. 27 in the Orioles' final road series against the Tampa Bay Rays. He said he was still feeling effects of that concussion, including dizziness and nausea, until three or four weeks ago.
"It lasted a little longer than any of us anticipated," said Roberts, who batted .278 with four home runs, 15 RBIs and 12 steals in 2010. "It was a pain in the butt for a while. I learned a lot about [concussions], just talking to different doctors and wondering as much as I could about it. You just have to wait it out, but in the end, it was a good break to let my body recover and give myself that six weeks of recovery time. Concussion symptoms are not fun. You just don't feel good. That's basically the bottom line."
Roberts saw a neurosurgeon in Baltimore and consulted with Orioles team doctor William Goldiner. He also remained in regular contact with his agent, Mark Pieper, who also represents Twins slugger Justin Morneau. The All-Star first baseman missed a good part of the 2010 season after sustaining a concussion.
"It was not a fun experience," Roberts said. "I realize what a lot of those guys that have had to deal with concussions have had to go through. But you look back and you learn from your mistakes and you move on."
Roberts' immediate focus is preparing for the 2011 season. He acknowledged that the team's recent additions have added to his excitement.