BALTIMORE — With Sunday’s 5-4 win in 10 innings over the Philadelphia Phillies, the Orioles brass will now meet on the off-day to discuss the future of veteran second baseman Brian Roberts prior to the start of a three-game set with the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning Tuesday.
The 34-year-old’s 20-day rehab assignment ends on Monday, and Baltimore is expected to activate Roberts, who will be making his return to the major leagues for the first time since May 16, 2011. However, manager Buck Showalter still wasn’t ready to risk jinxing the impending move prior to Sunday’s game.
“Let’s talk about that when it happens,” Showalter told reporters Sunday morning. “I don’t want to — not jinx it — but it’s been such a long road for Brian, and more importantly, I really don’t want to address it yet to be honest.”
Roberts went 0-for-4 for Norfolk in the Tides’ 4-2 loss on Sunday and is 5-for-21 (.238) in five games at Triple A. In his combined rehab time with Delmarva, Bowie, and Norfolk, Roberts has gone 10-for-42 (.238) with one home run, five doubles, four runs batted in, and seven walks in 14 games.
While many have wondered what Roberts’ return means for current second baseman Robert Andino, Showalter has been clear in his belief that Roberts will be an everyday player who can hopefully fill the lead-off spot that’s been an albatross for the Orioles since left fielder Nolan Reimold went down in late April. However, there’s little doubt that Showalter will continue to find regular at-bats for Andino, whose average is down to .243 after a 1-for-5 performance on Sunday.
Andino will likely assume a super-utility role similar to that held by Melvin Mora in the early part of last decade before he became the regular third baseman in 2004. The 28-year-old is capable of playing all infield positions and could become a factor in left field as well, though he has limited experience there.
“Robert’s been a guy that I’ve always felt comfortable playing anywhere,” Showalter said. “If Brian had been a little further along than this, I was going to try to play him a lot in the outfield in the spring. We talked about it. But we’ll continue to make use of Robert’s skills.”
Many have debated the merits of whether Roberts should simply retake the job, but Showalter will make sure each player gets regular at-bats. The Baltimore manager takes any opportunity he can to offer praise for what Andino brings to the club, so Roberts’ return shouldn’t be viewed as a negative unless he proves unable to play anymore. Whether it’s spelling Roberts and allowing the veteran to serve as the designated hitter once or twice a week or filling in at other positions, Andino will likely find his way into the lineup at least four or five games a week depending on the pitching matchups.
The question remains who will be sent out to clear room for Roberts. Despite a big day with a three-run homer on Sunday, infielder Steve Tolleson appears to be a strong candidate to go with utility player Ryan Flaherty being a Rule 5 selection the club must keep on the 25-man roster. With the club being so shorthanded in the outfield, veteran Steve Pearce has a stronger case for remaining with the Orioles for now. A darkhorse candidate could be first baseman Nick Johnson, who brings less versatility than either player and has made just one start since May 27, though Showalter likes having his left-handed bat off the bench in late-inning situations. .