BALTIMORE — The first-place Orioles welcomed the red-hot Boston Red Sox to town to begin a three-game set on Monday, but all pre-game discussion centered around two players yet to step foot on the field in 2012.
Second baseman Brian Roberts appears closer than ever to making his long-awaited return to the field and may start a minor league rehabilitation assignment within the next week or two. Roberts and manager Buck Showalter have a date in mind to begin the assignment, but the organization is keeping it close to the vest in case of any unforeseen setbacks.
In an extensive interview with the gathered media in the clubhouse on Monday afternoon (you can hear his comments HERE), Roberts said it was unlikely he would report to Sarasota but would instead begin playing in minor league games — Double-A Bowie and Single-A Frederick would be the logical destinations based on their schedule of home games — when deemed ready by his doctors.
I’ll have much more on Roberts later at WNST.net, but it’s apparent the Orioles are talking in terms of when — not if — the veteran second baseman returns.
“Hopefully, that’s something that’s imminent,” said Showalter about a rehab assignment. “We’ve got a plan in place, and 99 percent of it is based on what Brian and his doctors are talking about. We’re at the point where there’s a potential date involved.”
Left-handed pitcher Zach Britton is moving closer to a return after pitching in an extended spring training game in Sarasota on Monday. He threw 69 pitches over five innings and will have another workday on Wednesday. If all goes to plan, Britton could report to an affiliate to officially begin his minor league rehab assignment on Saturday.
Britton hasn’t suffered any setbacks since being placed on the 15-day disabled list late in spring training, and it appears the 24-year-old could find his way back to Baltimore by mid-June, which would create the interesting question of who he might replace in the rotation. Given the pitching woes of the last decade, that would be a welcome problem to have.
The news wasn’t as positive on relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom (finger) as he will not be ready to come off the disabled list on Saturday. He will likely go on a brief rehab assignment, and Showalter said it will likely be another two weeks or so until he’s ready to return to the 25-man roster.
Third baseman Mark Reynolds (strained oblique) is also close to going on a minor league rehab assignment. Meanwhile, veteran infielder Miguel Tejada reported to Triple-A Norfolk over the weekend and was scheduled to bat cleanup and play third base for the Tides on Monday.
Here are Monday night’s lineups…
SS Mike Aviles
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Adrian Gonzalez
3B Will Middlebrooks
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
LF Daniel Nava
CF Marlon Byrd
RF Che-Hsuan Lin
SP Clay Buchholz (4-2, 7.77 ERA)
LF Xavier Avery
SS J.J. Hardy
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
1B Chris Davis
3B Wilson Betemit
DH Nick Johnson
2B Robert Andino
SP Tommy Hunter (2-2, 4.78 ERA)
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from Buck Showalter, Brian Roberts, and Jim Johnson here and follow WNST on Twitter for live updates and analysis from Camden Yards throughout the evening.