Debut of right side of Orioles' infield will have to wait

Supposed to have played with second baseman Roberts for first time, first baseman Lee scratched with foot injury

March 20, 2011|By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Orioles' everyday lineup was supposed to be officially and finally healthy Sunday, with second baseman Brian Roberts and first baseman Derrek Lee sharing the right side of the infield for the first time this spring.

That anticipated moment had to be put on hold — again — though Roberts returned to action Sunday for the first time since March 7, playing five innings in the field while striking out, walking and grounding out in three plate appearances during the Orioles' 9-8 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

However, Lee, who made his Orioles debut Saturday after being on the shelf with a sore right wrist this spring, was scratched from Sunday's start with a left foot injury — again casting doubt on his ability to be ready for Opening Day.

Instead of playing in consecutive games, his return to major league action is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, if his foot is feeling better. He has just two at-bats so far in an exhibition season that ends March 29.

"He is going to come in [Monday] for treatment," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who didn't rule out the possibility of Lee's playing in a minor league game Monday. "During the season, I don't really know if he could have played — probably not. He said it felt better when he left today, so we'll see. It's not something you push and worry about setting it back."

In his first at-bat as an Oriole on Saturday, Lee fouled the first pitch he saw from the Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels off his left foot. He stayed in the game until the fourth inning and didn't appear injured after the game.

But Saturday night, after he left the park, Lee called head athletic trainer Richie Bancells in pain.

"Richie called me and said, 'We've got a problem.'" Showalter relayed Sunday morning. "He said that he was fine when he left here, but he was sitting in a chair or whatever and he said, 'Richie, this thing is killing me and is throbbing. I don't know what's going on here. I've never had anything like this.'

"I'm going, 'Perfect,'" Showalter said.

X-rays were negative Saturday night, and Showalter said a MRI on Sunday morning was "clean. So we dodged a bullet there, it looks like."

At least Showalter got his leadoff hitter and second baseman back Sunday.

Roberts, who has been dealing with spasms in his balky back, struck out looking on three pitches to lead off the game against Tampa Bay's Jeff Niemann. He walked on five pitches in his next plate appearance in the third inning. In the fifth, he took a ball before hitting a grounder to first to end the inning. It was the only time in 10 pitches that Roberts swung his bat.

"I figured I'd swing at some point," he joked. "I wasn't sure if it'd be a strike or not, but I figured I'd swing."

He was supposed to come out of the game after that, but forgot and headed back to second base.

"They told me one more at-bat and I totally forgot after I hit," he said. "I guess they just figured if he's that stupid, let him keep playing."

Roberts fielded two balls cleanly, including starting a double play in the fourth with shortstop J.J. Hardy. It's just the fifth time this spring that the new double-play combination has started a game together, but Roberts said adjusting to Hardy won't be a problem.

"It's overrated, if you ask me," Roberts said. "I've played with 25 shortstops, so it doesn't really matter that much to me."

Roberts, who has three hits in 14 at-bats this spring, said he'll play Tuesday against the New York Yankees and still expects to be ready for the club's April 1 season opener against the Rays.

"Obviously, you are going to have to pass tests as you go, steal a base or slide or make a play or whatever," said Roberts, who was limited to just 59 games last year because of various injuries, including a herniated disk in his back. "For the most part, it's just getting out there and seeing game speed and swinging a bat [at] game speed. That's what I think is as big of a test as any."

Roberts, 33, is perhaps the most indispensable member of the Orioles. A two-time All-Star, he is the club's offensive catalyst and a steadying defender up the middle. His return Sunday wasn't lost on Orioles starting pitcher Brad Bergesen.

"He is an All-Star, so having him on the field makes everyone better," Bergesen said. "He is going to make the defensive plays, he is going to get on base and make it tough for the other team."

Now, the Orioles are waiting for Lee, a Gold Glove first baseman and the club's projected No. 3 hitter, to join Roberts in a starting lineup that the front office envisioned this offseason.

"Yeah, that would be fun when we can get all nine guys out there eventually, hopefully," Roberts said. "I think we are all looking forward to that day."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

twitter.com/danconnollysun

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