MLB

Orioles hope 2B Roberts returns from concussions

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SARASOTA, Fla. (AP)

The Orioles need Brian Roberts back in their starting lineup. Not only is he Baltimore's best second baseman and base stealer, he's the Orioles only obvious leadoff hitter.

As Roberts continues to recuperate from the effects of his second concussion last May, the Orioles have stockpiled alternatives for him at second base. However, filling the leadoff spot would be much harder.

Manager Buck Showalter has spent all winter and the beginning of spring training considering his options, and has only one logical conclusion.

''If we're comparing all of them to Brian Roberts, they're all going to finish second,'' Showalter said.

Roberts has a lifetime on-base percentage of .353, and has the unique package of being a good contact hitter, an occasional power threat - and with excellent speed.

However, Roberts, 34, has said there is no timetable for his return.

''Every day that goes by you're more encouraged,'' he said. ''We've certainly had some rough patches for sure, but every day is a new day and every day we're taking a step forward at this point.''

Last season, Showalter often batted shortstop J.J. Hardy in the leadoff role, but the power-hitting shortstop didn't like it - and outfielder Nick Markakis, who often followed him complained he didn't get enough good pitches to hit.

The first two times Showalter placed Hardy on top in the order, he hit home runs to lead off the game, but that still didn't placate Hardy, who hit 30 for the season.

''If you look at my on-base percentage and my speed, I just feel bad for the guys heading behind me,'' Hardy said. ''I know I'm not a prototypical leadoff hitter. I don't like that first at-bat of the game.

''If Buck wants me there, and thinks it's best for the team, of course I'm doing to do, and do my best at it.''

Showalter's other alternatives include Roberts' replacement at second, Robert Andino, who also did it often in 2011.

''We're all hoping he can come back - even me,'' Andino said of Roberts. ''I know he's an important part of the team. He's our leadoff hitter.''

Showalter said that he didn't want to eliminate anyone - except for slow-footed catcher Matt Wieters.

The Orioles' manager continues to hope for Roberts' return, and without him, tries to downplay the importance of batting first.

''He's assured of hitting leadoff one time,'' Showalter said. ''It's more about who's behind him and presents the most challenges for the opposing pitchers.''

Besides Hardy and Andino, other possible choices include outfielder Endy Chavez and utilityman Wilson Betemit. But, Chavez doesn't walk very much - and Betemit isn't assured of playing regularly.

In Monday's home exhibition opener, Showalter tried the unconventional route, outfielder Nolan Reimold.

Reimold, a power-hitting outfielder, has good speed - and has shown an ability to draw walks. Last year, he his on-base percentage of .328 in 87 games was higher than Hardy's .310.

Showalter has indicated he like's Reimold's ability to draw walks and his speed, but knows he doesn't have an ideal option.

''It may not be a guy that looks like Brian - that brings the things that he brings,'' Showalter said.

Reimold is eager to give the leadoff spot a try.

''I definitely take that as a compliment,'' he said. ''Maybe I don't look the part of a leadoff guy, but I can run - hopefully I can bunt.''.

Reimold said he was going to talk with Roberts for some pointers.

''I've been playing the game for a while now, so I know what I'm good at and what I'm not good at. You don't want to force anything, but at the same time, you always look for new ways to get on base. After the first at-bat, it's not too different from any other at-bat,'' Reimold said.

As for Roberts, he's looking happy, taking some limited batting and fielding practice.

Showalter would be much happier if he didn't have to continually answer questions about Roberts. Perhaps he'd like to defer the responsibility of choosing a leadoff hitter to a non-human.

''The computer tells you to take your best hitter - the one you want to get the most at-bats and hit him there. Basically, the most important thing is to get your best hitter to the plate the most times,'' Showalter said.

Having his fill of questions about the leadoff spot, he offers that maybe there's another problem.

''I actually think the four-hole is going to be more of a challenge than the one-hole to figure out,'' he said.

Tagged: Orioles, Brian Roberts, J.J. Hardy, Robert Andino, Nolan Reimold

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