Could Roberts’ return be unlikeliest chapter of surprising season for Orioles?

May 22, 2012 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The view from the dugout wasn’t pretty on Monday as the Orioles squandered an early lead before falling 8-6 to the Boston Red Sox, but Brian Roberts is watching the action with a different perspective these days.

Having not played in a game in over a year, the second baseman admittedly wondered if he’d ever take his spot on the diamond at Camden Yards again while simply struggling with his overall quality of life at different points over the last 20 months. However, after a healthy spring of fielding ground balls, taking swings in the cage, and turning the double play in an empty stadium hours before games, Roberts can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

While manager Buck Showalter and Roberts won’t disclose the specific timeline, the pair admitted there is a date in mind for the 34-year-old to go on a much-anticipated minor league rehab assignment — perhaps as early as the next week or so. After so many setbacks and disappointments over a long road to recovery, you can forgive the involved parties for not wanting to jinx the possibility.

“For a long time, I wasn’t sure where the finish line was and I certainly didn’t see it,” Roberts said before the start of the Boston series. “When you do get a glimpse of that, it’s nice and you do get a breath of fresh air and some added momentum. There were a lot of times in the last year that I had no idea if I’d ever play baseball again. So, in some ways, it’d be a huge achievement or triumph just to get back out on that field.”

Of course, embarking on a rehab assignment isn’t exactly taking the field against the Red Sox or the Yankees at Camden Yards, but Roberts has done everything he possibly can and cleared all hurdles spelled out by the doctors to this point. The medical team has prepared Roberts for the possibility of some growing pains as he re-acclimates himself to playing in a live-game environment with a quicker pace and the background noise of people in the stands.

But when you remember Roberts was advised not to attend January’s Fan Fest event due to the effect the ambiance of a big crowd might have had on his recovery efforts, simply hearing the Orioles and Roberts talk in terms of when — not if — he will play again is a colossal step forward.

Admittedly, the veteran second baseman won’t really know how close he is to being ready to return to the Orioles until he faces real pitchers and takes his spot at second base for one of the organization’s minor league affiliates.

“Mike Bordick doesn’t have the stuff that Strasburg had [Sunday],” Roberts quipped. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll know until I get out there. I’ve taken probably thousands of swings off coaches without a huge environment around. I have been in the environment, I haven’t played in the environment and had the adrenaline rush and all those things I will have to get used to again. My doctor said I will probably go through the ups and downs that first week or two of getting back into it.”

While the possibility of Roberts’ return remains a hypothetical until proven otherwise, Showalter admits to daydreaming more and more about the former All-Star second baseman returning to the lineup. What kind of workload he can handle remains to be seen, but the Baltimore skipper made it clear he won’t view the longest-tenured Oriole as a part-time project after dismissing the notion that Roberts might only be a role player at this point in his career.

Showalter has too much appreciation for all the trials the 12-year veteran has faced over the last year to sell him short on a potential return.

“I think Brian is looking at it as a lot more than just getting here,” Showalter said. “Brian wants to get here and bring what Brian can bring, and we all know what that capability is. I think he knows what it takes to perform at this level. He’s not going to put himself in a position to come back unless he knows he can bring that.”

If — and it’s still a major if at this point — Roberts proves capable of making his return to the big leagues after a successful rehab assignment, the Orioles will be faced with the interesting dilemma of how to work him back into the lineup. In Roberts’ absence, current second baseman Robert Andino has done an admirable job, playing solid defense and providing more offense than expected at the bottom of the order.

The effort hasn’t been overlooked by Roberts, who praised Andino’s play when asked whether he felt he would have to compete to win back his starting job.

“Robert has a done a phenomenal job,” Roberts said. “It’s been fun to watch him play, and I’ve been excited to see him. Our team would be not where we are right now if he hadn’t played the way he has.”

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