Roberts working way back at Bowie

Roberts working way back at Bowie

BOWIE, Md. -- There were times when Brian Roberts wasn't sure he would be here -- at Double-A Bowie on Monday for his first rehab assignment since 2006 -- at any point this season.

Officially on the disabled list since April 10, Roberts has dealt with several epidural injections to help quell the inflammation around a herniated disc in his lower back, a bout of pneumonia that got him hospitalized and "unrelated back pain" that further postponed the prospect of getting in any rehab games at the Orioles' Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla.

"It did get to the point a couple of times, where I didn't know if it was better off just not even pushing it anymore," Roberts said in his first lengthy interview in months, after taking pregame batting practice with the Baysox. "But, you know, you just go through the process and you see where it takes you.

"I was going to continue to go through that [process] until it got to the point where there was no hope at the end. I'm thankful that I got here, at this point, and we're just going to continue to hope that things progress as they have been."

While the initial thought was that Roberts would play at Double-A until Saturday, the second baseman was both optimistic and eager that he could push that timeline up. Roberts led off for Bowie on Monday and went 2-for-5 with a double, an RBI single and two runs scored -- playing all nine innings at second base. He plans on doing the same thing serving as designated hitter for Tuesday's game.

"The final decision [on returning to the team] is probably not mine," said Roberts, who went 8-for-15 in his first three games for the Gulf Coast League Orioles before joining Bowie. "If it was mine, I probably would have played [Monday's game in Baltimore]. It probably wouldn't have been smart, but I would have done it."

Interim Orioles manager Juan Samuel is well aware of Roberts' persuasions, and admitted that having him back for next week's series on the artificial turf in Toronto isn't ideal. The team could activate Roberts as early as this weekend -- and opt to rest him for some of the Blue Jays' series -- or they could wait and send him to the following three-gamer in Kansas City.

"We have to see what's best for him long term," Samuel said.

The 32-year-old Roberts -- in the first year of a four-year, $40 million deal -- missed most of Spring Training after receiving his first epidural for the injury he originally suffered during offseason workouts in Arizona. He had just 19 spring-at bats, but both Roberts and the team pronounced him to be in playing shape, and Roberts was starting in his fourth consecutive game on April 9 in the home opener when he reinjured his back on a successful first-inning headfirst slide stealing second.

Roberts, who called the setback-laden rehab process "beyond" frustrating, clarified on Monday that surgery has never been a treatment option discussed by his doctors, and wasn't worried about the herniated disc affecting his career going forward.

Asked why he didn't just hang up his spikes on what is essentially a lost season for a 29-63 Baltimore club, Roberts cited several reasons, including a responsibility to the Orioles organization, a preparation for next year and to show fans who questioned that he had given up.

"There were some fans that were wondering if I was still trying to play, if I wanted to play." said Roberts, who was posed that question on a weekly radio show appearance. "I want people to know, that is not the case. I will be out there until I can't go."

He is also eager to rejoin his Baltimore teammates and, at the very least, solidify the leadoff spot. A dynamic table-setter, the switch-hitting Roberts hit .283 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .451 slugging percentage in 159 games last season. He hit 16 homers with 79 RBIs and a franchise-record 56 doubles, which also set the all-time single-season mark in a season by a switch-hitter.

"I don't think we'd be 10 games over .500 if I was playing, but I feel like I could have made a difference in some areas," Roberts said. "It's difficult to sit back and watch.

"I look at a guy like Kevin Millwood who's never been here before and you want to get him a good taste of this city and Baltimore baseball and the Orioles. And I feel like, not that I would have changed that whole thing, but you feel like when you are out there playing you might have an opportunity to do something like that. There's a lot of different things that have been hard the last couple of months."

Still, Roberts is hopeful that the toughest part is behind him and said the biggest test of his rehab assignment will be sliding head first, something he hasn't done since that fateful steal on April 9.

Roberts said it crossed his mind during Monday's game, when he slid feet first into second on a leadoff double, but the situation didn't call for it.

"It felt good to get in a game with lights and fans and have a little bit of adrenaline," Roberts said following Bowie's 6-2 win over Binghamton. "It's always nice to get out there, [my] body felt good."

"[I'm] way more comfortable than I thought I would be at this point."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.