X-rays on Roberts' neck reveal muscle spasms, no disk issues

Second baseman 'not overly concerned,' says he's 'pretty sure' stiffness isn't related to back injury suffered last season

February 23, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — If it were any other player, the news that an Oriole left Ed Smith Stadium to get his stiff neck examined would probably have been greeted with little more than a collective yawn.

However, this was Brian Roberts, and questions about his health figure to loom over spring training after he played just 59 games last year because of a herniated disk in his back.

"We've probably all had a stiff neck at some point in our life, right?" Roberts said. "I'm not overly concerned."

Roberts had X-rays taken on his neck, and manager Buck Showalter said the second baseman and leadoff man had only muscle spasms, "nothing other than that."

"They didn't see any disk issues or anything," Showalter said.

Roberts, 33, said earlier in the week that he felt 100 percent and he was looking forward to a spring not dominated by questions about his health. He made it through two full days of workouts before reporters returned to his locker to question him on how he was feeling after he returned from getting the X-rays.

Asked whether he understands why something as routine as getting a stiff neck would raise concerns, Roberts said: "I understand there's about a two-feet difference from where my back hurt and where my neck hurt. So I'm pretty sure they are not related."

Roberts got treatment on his neck and hopes not to miss any extended time, though he said that it's too early in spring training to rush back.

"We tried to get it calmed down at least so whenever it does feel fine, I'll go out there," he said. "It's the third day of spring training."

When Roberts arrived at spring training last year, he acknowledged that he was having problems with his lower back. His participation was delayed significantly, but Roberts eventually graduated to playing in Grapefruit League games. As he promised, he was on the field and in the leadoff spot when the Orioles opened the 2010 season April 6 against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.

He played the first three games before he aggravated the injury stealing a base in the home opener against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 9. He went on the disabled list and didn't return to the lineup until July 23.

Without Roberts in the starting lineup, the Orioles went 36-68, going through one of the tougher offensive stretches in recent memory. Eight different players hit in the leadoff spot in Roberts' absence. With him, they went 30-28 and were a much more potent team offensively.

While Roberts had said throughout the offseason that he felt the back injury was a thing of the past, the Orioles, who were forced to rely at times last year on veteran Julio Lugo at second base, took no chances and put a priority on upgrading their depth at middle infield.

At the winter meetings, they acquired utility man Brendan Harris from the Minnesota Twins in the same deal in which they landed starting shortstop J.J. Hardy. They re-signed veteran Cesar Izturis, their starting shortstop the past two seasons, to be their top infield backup.

They also kept infielder Robert Andino on the 40-man roster and added another versatile veteran, Nick Green, late in the offseason on a minor league deal.

"Every spot, it's the what-ifs," Showalter said. "We talked about that all offseason with you guys. Today doesn't bring any more of a sense of urgency. You always do that — first base, second base, shortstop, third base. It's a hard game to play every day."

If Roberts were to miss any extended time, Izturis would likely become the Orioles' regular second baseman. Izturis has made just 35 starts at second base in his career — none since the 2006 season.

"It's something that I'll get used to," Izturis said. "I've been taking ground balls at second since I've been here. I'm trying to work on my footwork, getting in good position. Like I said before, I'll be ready to do whatever they need me to do. I just want to help the team win."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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