PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts went 0-for-2 with a walk in his first game since March 7, Sunday's 9- 8 win over the Rays, and the next step for him will be Tuesday's home game.
"It was a good start for him," manager Buck Showalter said of Roberts, who has been sidelined with back spasms. "I say start, but it's kind of a 'pick up where he left off' thing."
The Orioles are hoping Roberts, who was 3-for-12 in the four spring games before being sidelined, can do that just that and be ready come Opening Day. Sunday was a good step toward that, as the second baseman played five innings in the field and was in good spirits afterward, as he talked about staying in the game longer than intended.
"They told me one more at-bat, and I totally forgot after I hit [in the bottom of the fourth],"said Roberts, who stayed out on the field for the following half-inning." I guess they just figured if he's that stupid, let him keep playing."
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Following Monday's off-day, Roberts is scheduled to play in Tuesday's home game against the Yankees, a start that the second baseman didn't anticipate being a problem. Roberts pointed out that what he did in Sunday's game -- he saw 10 pitches total -- was pretty similar to what he what he had been doing the last few days at the team's complex.
"Obviously, you are going to have to pass tests as you go, steal a base or slide or make a play," Roberts said of getting ready for April 1. "[But] for the most part, just getting out there and seeing game speed and swinging the bat [at] game speed, is as big a test as any."
Time is ripe for Rupe to reach potential
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Orioles pitching coach Mark Connor had a long talk with reliever Josh Rupe this winter, after the right-hander signed a Minor League deal with Baltimore. The pair spoke again the first day of camp.
"I said, 'You're 28 years old. It's time," Connor said. "It's time to use your ability and be a big leaguer and have a career. And so far, so good. He's been very impressive."
In six spring outings, Rupe hasn't allowed an earned run, a span of 11 2/3 innings in which he's given up seven hits with two walks and a strikeout. Up and down with Texas and Kansas City the last few seasons, Rupe has emerged as one of the leading candidates for the Orioles bullpen, a job that would almost certainly require a long relief role.
"When I had him in Texas, he had success doing that," Connor said. "Then there were times when, because of the needs, he kind of got pushed up and [was] put in situations -- the eighth inning, the seventh inning -- [and] things kind of fell apart for him. But that was three [or] four years ago."
Since then, Rupe says he has learned to focus only on pitching, a mindset that helped him get through a rocky 2010 season in the Kansas City organization. After pitching to a 1.53 ERA in his first six outings, the Royals told Rupe he was going to be used as their setup man. Five appearances later, a rough stretch over which he allowed five runs over three innings, he was designated for assignment in favor of prospect Blake Wood. Rupe spent the rest of the season with Triple-A Omaha.
"That was kind of hard to swallow a little bit," said Rupe, who pitched to a 2.42 ERA in 40 Triple-A appearances. "But then I kind of used it as, 'OK, I'm going to go down, but I'm going to show other teams what I have. And I think that mindset helped me out, as far as not letting all the other [stuff] get to me."
The Orioles were one of the first to call this winter, and manager Buck Showalter has made it no secret that the club targeted Rupe, who boasts a power sinker that comes in anywhere from 91-95 mph and can pitch multiple innings.
"He's still very much in the mix with our bullpen," Showalter said of Rupe, whom the team stretched out to three innings on March 17; Rupe could go four frames in his next appearance.
While there was some thought of getting Rupe to the point where he could possibly start, that would be a scenario that would return him to Triple-A. Right now, Rupe is pitching well enough that the Orioles are looking to camp with him as part of their bullpen, which has been one of the toughest competitions this spring.
Rupe is doing everything possible to make the decision to keep him an easy one.
"Last year, [I realized] that I do belong [in the Majors] and I should be there; this year, I'm taking the same approach," Rupe said. "And hopefully, it works out. ... I feel really pleased with how I'm throwing; I've just got to keep it up."
"I don't want to see him go home someday and regret, with the ability that he has, that he didn't really have the career that he should have," Connor said of Rupe, who has made the most of that ability so far this spring.
"He's a great kid."
Top pitching prospect Zach Britton will start Tuesday's game against the New York Yankees, with Chris Tillman making a Minor League start. The O's would prefer to give Britton, who has yet to make a Major League start, more experience in a bigger arena, and it's also his turn, since he threw to Class A players the last time out. ... Starter Justin Duchscherer threw off flat ground at the team's complex for the third time since his MRA. He has no timetable but manager Buck Showalter was encouraged with the report on his session. ... Reliever Koji Uehara will pitch in a Minor League game on Tuesday. The team would prefer to control the setting in his first time out, which is why he's not throwing against the Yankees. ... There will be a third round of roster cuts on Wednesday or Thursday.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.