With Roberts' hamstring feeling better, Orioles could see more steals

Leadoff man has dealt with soreness since start of season

April 29, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

CHICAGO — — As it turns out, Brian Roberts' reluctance to steal bases wasn't a result of concern over his back. It was because of a sore right hamstring.

A day after stealing third base in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox — his second stolen base of the season and first since April 6, a span of 18 games — Roberts revealed Friday that he has been dealing with hamstring discomfort since the season began.

"I wanted to be on the field, and I knew if I was trying to run recklessly, I probably wouldn't have been able to stay in the lineup," Roberts said. "But it's gotten a lot better. [Thursday] was one of those times. I told [manager Buck Showalter] a long time ago, 'Look, I want to play so I probably won't be stealing much.' Hopefully, that's going to change now that I'm getting healthy."

Since returning to the Orioles' lineup July 23 after missing about 31/2 months with a herniated disk in his back, Roberts has just 12 stolen bases and 14 attempts in 78 games. That has prompted questions about whether he'll ever again be the player who averaged 34 stolen bases a season from 2004 to 2009.

"I was trying to be smart so I can maybe steal 30 the last 120 games and not the first 10. I told [head athletic trainer Richie Bancells] the other day, I said, 'I finally may have used my head for a week or two,'" Roberts said. "I wanted to run, but I sat there and said, 'Is this smart?' I want to play 162 games or 159 or whatever. Once I'm getting past that, no, I don't want to be the new Brian Roberts, quote, unquote. I want to run, and I think I still can run. I think I can still steal 30 bases, and that's what I'm hoping to do."

Roberts said he started feeling hamstring soreness late in spring training, which he attributed to coming back after missing about 10 days with back and neck issues. However, it hasn't stopped him from playing and batting leadoff in all 24 of the Orioles' games this season.

"I said when I came back, I don't want to play 120 games. I don't want to sit out 40 games or have one day a week off," Roberts said. "[Showalter] tried to give me a day off in that first doubleheader [April 9 against the Texas Rangers], and I said, 'Buck, I want to play; I'm good to go.' You're going to battle things. You're going to have nagging injuries. I'm not different than anybody else in this room right now. But when it boils down to me being able to go out there and play, I feel fine. I think I'm getting to a point where I can do what I want to do."

The Orioles have stolen just five bases this season, tied with the Atlanta Braves for the fewest in the major leagues. Roberts' steals of third Thursday was the team's first stolen base since April 7. However, Roberts' getting on base and running could certainly set the tone and encourage teammates to steal more.

"He's been nicked up, but we want him on the field," Showalter said. "He always presents that challenge. The opposition doesn't know if he's going or not. He creates a lot of havoc even when he doesn't run. I've got a lot of confidence in him knowing himself and the needs we have. He's another guy that seems to dial up what we need. I'm real excited about his play so far."

Orioles feeling left out

The Orioles are carrying two left-handed relief specialists — Michael Gonzalez and Clay Rapada — but neither has been overly impressive against left-handed hitters, albeit in small sample sizes. Lefty hitters are 3-for-11 against Gonzalez and 2-for-6 off Rapada. Both could play a role in this series with left-handed-hitting slugger Adam Dunn looming in the middle of the Chicago White Sox order.

"We're cognizant of the issue, and I'm hopeful that it is going to improve," Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said.

MacPhail also stuck by the struggling Gonzalez, who has a 13.50 ERA and has given up runs in four straight outings and in six of seven appearances this season. That included Thursday, when Gonzalez faced four batters and allowed three to reach base. However, MacPhail and Showalter said they were encouraged by the outing because Gonzalez's stuff was much better than it has been.

"The results weren't what you'd hope for, but I was actually encouraged by the last outing and the velocity return," MacPhail said. "Some of his breaking stuff was crisper, like we've seen it in the past. I went back and looked at it, and when he came back from his injury last year, opponents hit .165 off him for the rest of the year. You just have to get him back to that, and I thought he got a lot closer yesterday. I was encouraged by the performance because we need him."

Gonzalez would need to approve a demotion to the minor leagues, but MacPhail said that hasn't been considered.

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