CLEARWATER, Fla. — — The Orioles cruised through the first three weeks of spring training without major incident, a fact that — whenever presented to manager Buck Showalter — invariably caused him to rap his knuckles on anything in the vicinity that was made of wood.
There was the usual assortment of rehabbing players, even a little intrigue when Brian Roberts missed a few days with a sore neck and Justin Duchscherer was shut down briefly with a sore hip, but there was plenty of time for everything to come together and — seemingly — good reason for all the happy faces around the newly renovated Ed Smith Stadium complex.
Maybe Orioles fans will still be feeling the same way three weeks from now, when the O's open the regular season against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, but the last few days have been, well, a bit unsettling.
The timetable for Derrek Lee's exhibition debut has been pushed back a couple of times, and Showalter revealed on Tuesday that the club was sending its new first baseman to a specialist to look at his sore right wrist.
Then came the news that Roberts was held out of Tuesday's workout back in Sarasota because of a back spasm, which is sure to send a chill down the spine of everyone who saw how his absence impacted the Orioles' offense last season.
Those two revelations came on the same day that Duchscherer was getting ready to make his first Grapefruit League start and Brian Matusz was about to pitch for the first time since he had laser surgery to treat a wart on the middle finger of his pitching hand.
The good news: Duchscherer and Matusz each looked fine against the Phillies at Bright House Field on Tuesday and Koji Uehara is getting ready to start throwing again after getting a cortisone shot in his sore right elbow.
The bad news: There are so many unknown variables on the Orioles roster that it's getting more and more difficult to make a logical case for all the optimism that has bubbled up in Baltimore over this latest incarnation of the team.
Lee came into camp under some restriction after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. He seemed to be coming along nicely until he developed persistent soreness in his right wrist, which has been attributed to the resumption of baseball activities after a lengthy post-surgical layoff.
That sounds reasonable enough and it probably is, but Lee's frustration with the lingering wrist pain was apparent when he met briefly with reporters on Tuesday morning, so the news that he was going to visit local hand specialist Dr. Brian Schofield later in the day made it fair game to wonder whether he will be ready for Opening Day.
The Roberts situation is even more curious, since Showalter said that Roberts started feeling some discomfort in his back several days ago. Everyone who watched Monday night's game against the Yankees on MASN saw Roberts lead off the Orioles' half of the first inning with a bunt and then dive head-first into first base. He certainly didn't look like a guy with a sore back.
Of course, the injury that cost Roberts most of the 2010 season could recur at any time — and certainly could be aggravated by a hard slide or some other violent action on the field — so his status figures to generate intrigue and speculation well beyond the start of the regular season.
The report of his back spasm on Tuesday was only a reminder of that, but it also brought home the fact that several of the players who are being counted on to revive the Orioles' offense are physical wild cards.
It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong during the disastrous first four months of the 2010 season. This year, the Orioles arrived at spring training in much better shape to be competitive, but there is no guarantee against a similar run of hideous fortune.
That's why the past week has been unsettling and the next week could be a little scary.
Try to keep a good thought.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.