SARASOTA, Fla. — Just a few weeks after reporting to spring training camp and expressing confidence that his recent health issues are behind him, second baseman Brian Roberts is again dealing with back pain.
Roberts, who has been sidelined since Monday after experiencing back spasms, had "trigger-point injections" Friday and is scheduled to have an MRI on Saturday.
"We don't know. We'll just have to see," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said. "Fortunately, this is a doctor that he saw last year. We had plenty of MRIs from last year. We'll take a look this year and see if there are any changes. It's not my preference, but these are things you just have to deal with. It's March 11. You just don't know how they are going to unfold. You just have to take the proper medical precautions and move from there. There's no sense fretting about what it could be, might be. Just let the doctors do their stuff."
This is about the worst possible injury news the Orioles could get this spring. Roberts, 33, was limited to 59 games last year because of a herniated disk in his back, and the offense struggled mightily without its leadoff hitter.
While the rest of the lineup has been upgraded with the additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles don't have a true leadoff hitter to replace Roberts if the two-time All-Star is out for an extended period.
"We are at a stage still in spring training where we've got opportunity, where time is on our side a little bit right now," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "So I don't think we are at that point [of worrying] yet. But the big thing is to identify and see if we can do something to eliminate it and make sure we rule out anything else. But so far, so good."
Showalter said Roberts saw the same back specialist Friday whom he saw last year and there weren't any "real red flags." Still, the club has decided to shut down Roberts temporarily and let his symptoms "quiet down for at least two or three days."
Roberts has 12 at-bats this spring and hasn't played since Monday, when he made a headfirst slide into first base to beat out a bunt single against the New York Yankees. Roberts acknowledged that the slide was probably not a good decision but said he had been having back spasms a couple of days before the game and didn't think it had anything to do with his latest injury issues.
Roberts, who did participate in a team workout Thursday and hit in the indoor batting cage, stopped briefly at his locker Friday morning but didn't talk to reporters. He was gone by the time Showalter acknowledged that he hadn't progressed and likely was going to undergo more tests.
"I talked to Brian briefly today. He said that it wasn't as bad as it was last year in terms of the pain or whatever," MacPhail said. "He's frustrated by it, so we want to see if we can get it solved."
At the team's FanFest in late January, Roberts, buoyed by his offseason workouts, said he hadn't felt so good in nearly two years. However, he was sidelined not long after workouts started with a stiff neck. He returned to game action, only to be shut down again with the back spasms. Now, there is no timetable for his return, though Showalter said it wouldn't be earlier than Tuesday.
Asked whether he was frustrated by the uncertainty regarding Roberts' status, Showalter said: "Not at this point, not with him personally. [There's] nothing you can ever do about that physically. But I don't think we are at that point yet where we are concerned about him opening the season."
Cesar Izturis played second base Friday, and prospect Ryan Adams is expected to start at second in Saturday's exhibition against the Houston Astros in Kissimmee. The Orioles also have Robert Andino, Brendan Harris and Nick Green who can play second base.
"We have got plenty of people there we have been looking at," Showalter said. "We'll see what the rest of spring brings."
MacPhail also expressed optimism, saying: "I would much rather have the player play. I'd rather have this not be an issue, but we all go through this to one level or another in spring training. Particularly this early in spring training, you are watching these games and hoping no one gets hurt. Just let them play, get themselves in shape and keep them available. We have three weeks before we open, so we'll just see how things unfold."