In the last of the first inning of tonight’s series-opening game against the Pittsburgh Pirates the Camden Yards faithful will hear a series of words they haven’t heard in a long time: “Batting first for the Orioles, the second baseman, #1 Brian Roberts.” At some point before tonight’s game, Roberts is expected to be activated from the 60-day DL and placed on the active roster; he’s also expected to start at second base tonight against Pittsburgh. Roberts could very easily give a shot in the arm to a team that’s already exceeded expectations thus far. A career .281 hitter with a .353 OBP, Roberts is a true lead-off man in every sense of the term.
First off, the O’s will have to make a corresponding roster move in order to activate Roberts. It’s unclear who will go down, however Steve Tolleson appears to be as good a candidate as any (simply because he has options). But what happens to the infield? My guess (and it’s simple that; a guess) is that Robert Andino will see some significant time at third base, with first base and DH being split between Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis. The batting order will also have to be reshuffled a bit given that Roberts will immediately re-claim his spot as the lead-off guy. Prior to Roberts’ injury last May, I felt that J.J. Hardy’s presence at the bottom of the order gave the Birds a decent 1-2 punch with Hardy hitting 9th and Roberts 1st. Whether or not Buck Showalter sends Hardy down to that spot or it’s filled with Andino remains to be seen, however Roberts will streamline the lineup one way or the other.
Without going into too much detail, Roberts has been out since suffering his second concussion last May in Boston. Since then, he’s dealt with post-concussion syndrome which has kept him out of the lineup. There were some questions back in January about whether or not Roberts would ever return when he neglected to attend Oriole Fan Fest citing the fact that the bright lights of the Baltimore Convention Center could cause him problems. However speaking for myself, I always felt that this moment would come for Roberts, who’s been about as solid of a player as the Orioles have had over the past ten years.
However questions linger about where he’ll be once he returns. Will he still provide the same spark to the Orioles’ lineup? Will he be more hesitant to steal bases based on his injuries? From a baseball standpoint, has he lost a step at 34? If any of that were the case, I don’t think the Orioles would pencil him into the lineup. However given that he’s been out of the major leagues since May, there might be a slight “re-learning curve.” However at some point we will see Roberts swinging the bat and yielding one of those solid smacks up the middle for a single. That’s what a lead-off guy is supposed to do.
Roberts’ return will hardly get the publicity that one might expect of a U2 concert or anything of that sort, however it is a big deal to the Orioles and their fans. Most importantly of all, it’s important to Brian Roberts. So many people have asked me whether or not Roberts would ever come back, and so many more have asked me if the Orioles should flat out cut him. My answer was always yes to the first one, and no to the second. The Orioles owe him too much on his contract for them to cut him. He’d be picked up by another team within the hour, and the O’s would still be on the hook for his salary. Regardless of any of that, Roberts is expected to be back tonight making his 2012 debut. I would expect a rousing cheer from the Camden faithful when he steps to the plate tonight.
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala