Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts will begin an injury rehabilitation assignment Wednesday night at Double-A Bowie, which means that he has up to 20 days to work his way back into the major league lineup.
That's happy news — considering that he has spent a grueling and frustrating year recovering from the compound effects of a pair of concussions — but the announcement just before game time Tuesday night only amplified all the questions that remain about his future and the impact of his potential return on the first-place Orioles.
Roberts clearly recognized that as he revealed his feelings 24 hours before first start for the Baysox at Prince George's Stadium.
"Excited … scared … a little bit of everything," he said. "It's been a long time coming, for sure."
It will be a year and a week, to be exact. Roberts suffered his second concussion in an eight-month period May 16, 2011, sliding into first base on a rainy night in Boston. Since then, he has traveled a road to recovery that has featured more lows than highs, and he still can't say for sure whether this latest step forward will land him back at second base at Camden Yards or back to square one.
"I have no idea what the future holds," he said, "but I'm excited to see."
No doubt, the Orioles and their fans second that emotion and wish Roberts the best as he tries to re-establish himself as one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball, but they also wonder just how his return to the active major league roster will affect the Orioles as they try to build on their surprising start.
Will he rejoin the team and move right in at second base, displacing Robert Andino, who has filled in so well in Roberts' absence that manager Buck Showalter might have to find some creative ways to keep both of them in the everyday lineup?
Even Roberts conceded Monday that Andino has played so well that the decision is going to be a tough one.
"Robert has done a phenomenal job, and it's been fun to watch him play," Roberts said. "I've been excited to see him get the number of at-bats he has and play the way he has. Our team would not be where we are right now if he hadn't played the way that he has. I think that speaks volumes for the depth of our organization and where we are and how we've made great strides.
"When it comes to winning my job back, whatever Buck wants me to do, I'll do. I'd love for this team to be playing in October, and if I'm sitting on the bench then, I guess, so be it. I'd like to think he's going to run me out there when I'm ready."
If that leaves you with any doubt about the me-second team chemistry that Showalter has developed in the Orioles clubhouse, then you might want to hear Andino's reaction to the possibility that he could be displaced at second base.
"I know when Brian gets back, he's just going to make this team much better, so I ain't worried about it," Andino said Tuesday. "I'm here to win, so whatever my role is when he comes back, I'm all for it."
Showalter isn't saying just how he'll make room for Roberts in the lineup, but it's fair to speculate that the most logical place to move the very versatile Andino is third base, which has been a defensive Bermuda Triangle for much of the season.
"I do think I can keep Robert in the flow regardless," Showalter said. "Robert played some third base last year. I wasn't surprised, but I was like, 'This guy can play over there.' It's one thing to be able to do it, and another to embrace it. I think Robert would embrace it."
There are other possible permutations. Andino could show up in the designated hitter role on occasion (as could Roberts) and fill in elsewhere. Showalter has always envisioned him as a super-utility guy who could play every day at a variety of positions.
"I'll catch … I'll do anything," Andino said. "I just want to play. I think I'll be better [at third]. Over there, I just got to react. I don't have to think about nothing, and I don't like thinking. I think it would be fine. I think I came a long way at second base, but we all know that B-Rob is the second baseman of this team."
Maybe some other brash young player might think he deserves to keep the job he has done well for so long, but Andino says he still has a debt to pay.
"It's just knowing that Buck has trust in me," he said. "That means a lot to me. I take that personally, and I go out there and try not to let nobody down. … Of course, he's the one that gave me the chance. He put his trust in me and let me go out there and play, so whatever I have to do, I'm here for the team."
Roberts, as always, is taking things one careful step at a time, but he knows he's very close to a moment he thought might never come.
"I'm extremely excited," Roberts said. "I'm grateful for our organization. I'm grateful for the team doctors and my doctor in Pittsburgh — Dr. Collins. I'm grateful for Brady Anderson and Mike Bordick and all those guys who put in so much time, energy and effort to helping me get back. And certainly to my family and my wife and — most importantly — to God for giving me the ability to get back out there and play again."
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.
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