Not too early for Orioles fans to start worrying

Injuries, inconsistencies are cause for concern

March 19, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

If you're an Orioles fan, the news coming out of Camp Showalter is not wildly encouraging.

With Opening Day two weeks away, you had visions of Brian Roberts igniting the offense and moving freely at second base and running the base-paths with abandon down in Sarasota, Fla., his back problems of a year ago just a bad memory.

You hoped new third baseman Mark Reynolds and new first baseman Derrek Lee would be feasting on spring training pitching by now.

(Doesn't it seem like only yesterday that they were moving cars out of the way at Ed Smith Stadium, because Reynolds was jacking moon-shots in batting practice that were landing in the parking lot? But in games right now, Reynolds isn't hitting squat, never mind moon-shots. More on that in a moment.)

Finally, you envisioned the young pitchers mowing down opposing hitters as they did over the last two months of last season, when Buck Showalter arrived as the new manager, waved his hands and magically turned them into winners.

But it hasn't exactly worked out that way this spring.

Instead there have been a few, um, setbacks.

The biggest setback, of course, has involved Roberts. As you may have heard, Roberts is not completely healthy — again. He is feeling either pain or discomfort. This is in either his neck or back. No one seems to know exactly.

He says it's not related to the herniated disk that sidelined him for most of last season. But whatever it is, the guy has his own table in the trainer's room. And he probably has his own MRI machine in his Florida condo, right next to the monster flat-screen TV.

Understand, I don't say this to make fun of Roberts, who must feel like jabbing a scissors through his skull with these health issues.

But this could be a major problem for the Orioles. The guy is scheduled to play his first game since March 7 on Sunday when the O's play the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte. Before that, he had all of 12 at-bats this spring.

Did I mention Opening Day is two weeks away? So you see the dilemma here.

The more Orioles fans hear Roberts say his neck and back issues are no big deal, the more freaked out they get.

Tune in to the sports-talk shows, if you don't believe me. Check out the message boards. Roberts is sick to death of talking about his health. And I get that. But the more you hear him say it's no big deal, the more you think it could be a very big deal for the Orioles.

Which brings us to Lee, another Oriole whose health might be of some concern right now.

This is the guy who is penciled in to bat third in the order. He's also the guy whose sore wrist had prevented him from playing in games until Saturday, when he was in the lineup against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Did I mention Opening Day is two weeks away? OK, never mind. But wouldn't it be nice to know by now how the 36-year-old's wrist will hold up against live pitching?

And who did he get to test his sore wrist against in his spring training debut? Only the Phillies' fire-balling lefty Cole Hamels. Somewhere the baseball gods had to be smiling.

We move now, as promised, to Reynolds, who is also on the radar of Orioles fans right now — for all the wrong reasons.

I say that because Reynolds is batting .195. With no homers. And 15 strikeouts in 41 at-bats.

Sure, sure, it's only spring training, none of it counts, it's all about getting ready for the new season and blah, blah, blah.

But you'd like to see your new power guy swinging the bat a little better at this point. And cutting down on the strikeouts after notching more than 200 of them in each of his past three seasons.

Oh, and in a perfect world, you'd also like to see your left-fielder, Luke Scott, hitting better than .091 with zero homers and two RBIs.

Did I mention Opening Day is only ... OK, I'll stop now. I'm starting to annoy myself.

On top of all this, we now have reports that Showalter is not exactly thrilled with what he's seen from the pitching so far.

He wants his young starters to stop working on whatever it is they're working on — arm-slot mechanics, hand-positioning during the windup, hip rotation during the delivery, etc. — and start working on actually getting batters out.

Yes, that would probably be a good idea.

I bet it would make Orioles fans feel better, too.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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