The Orioles could be getting a familiar face back to Camden Yards very soon.
Second baseman Brian Roberts started a two-game rehabilitation stint with short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Saturday night and could be back with the major league club as early as this week if everything goes well with the IronBirds.
Roberts has been on the disabled list since July 3 with a labral tear in his right hip and has been trying to avoid season-ending surgery by participating in baseball activities in Sarasota, Fla. Saturday was his first game action at any level since July 1. He was 0-for-4 with a walk and a run scored and struck out twice.
Roberts started the season on the disabled list with concussion symptoms and didn't play a game until June 12. He hit .182 in a 17-game stretch before injuring his hip.
“The good thing is that he isn't having any problems with the concussion, which is a blessing,” manager Buck Showalter said. “It would mean a lot to us to get him back and operating at the level that we know he is capable of.”
If Roberts feels fine after two games, he could return to the Orioles as early as Monday. He will have a minimum of three at-bats in Aberdeen but could play the entire game if the hip doesn't hold him out.
The possibility of Roberts having surgery still exists even if he is activated — it just wouldn't happen until the offseason.
“Brian is basically saying that he wants to come help the club now, if he can manage this, and get through it,” Showalter said. “If it's just a matter of tolerating [potential] discomfort, he's in. But if it's something he can't function with at all, then he's going to proceed with the surgery.”
Showalter also said Roberts would likely experience some discomfort if he makes it back to Baltimore, because of his inactivity.
“There is a different level in Aberdeen than there is up here, so we'll take in all the things we can take in,” Showalter said. “I think Brian will be honest with us. He knows what it takes to play up here. It's not a 24-year old guy. Brian has a lot of experience with this type of stuff, and I think we can trust him on it.”
If Roberts returns Tuesday, the Orioles could have a quandary at the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Outfielder Nick Markakis came off the disabled list July 9 and has excelled as the club's leadoff hitter. In 15 games, he has hit .359 with a .414 on-base percentage batting leadoff for the first time in his career. Even so, Roberts' return could bump Markakis to a different spot in the order.
“That's a fair question, but I'm going to wait and answer it after two days in Aberdeen, what they tell me and what Brian thinks,” Showalter said. “He's obviously had the most experience, and Nick is capable of hitting anywhere in our order in my mind, and Brian is not.”
Roberts' return could also give the Orioles a crowded infield. Second baseman Robert Andino is playing today and Monday in Triple-A Norfolk to rehab his left shoulder, and is eligible to come off the disabled list Tuesday.
If everything goes right for Roberts and Andino, the Orioles would be adding two second basemen to their roster in a week and would have to make corresponding roster moves.
Astros claim Pearce
The Orioles learned Saturday that outfielder Steve Pearce was claimed off waivers by the Houston Astros and is no longer with the organization.
“I told Steve at the time — because he was down, he really liked it here and we liked him — but I told him, ‘This is win-win-win for you. The worst-case scenario is that you are in Triple-A with us, which he had said he was already going to go, or you're back up here or you're playing in the big leagues in the next few days.'”
Pearce batted .254 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 28 games for the Orioles. He will join the Astros' major league roster for their game today.
Thome held out
Orioles designated hitter Jim Thome was held out of Saturday's lineup with neck spasms, which Showalter said he first learned about after Friday's game.
Thome said that the spasms aren't related to the neck issues that have bothered him throughout his career.
“Basically what I have is a spasm up in my upper neck, trap area,” he said. “I woke up today and I was just a little more stiff than I have normally been. I came in and it was something that never really changed. So I brought it to [the medical staff's] attention and we are going to try and get it out of there as quick as we can.”
Thome also said he didn't anticipate the injury being serious or keeping him out for an extended period of time.
“With a spasm, you never know, but hopefully within a day or two,” he added.
Energy in the crowd
Friday night's announced crowd of 29,270 was one of the loudest of the season — and the Orioles noticed, especially Showalter.
It could have been the four lead changes in the game, or that it was fireworks night, or that the team handed out bucket hats before the game, but the crowd was into it Friday night.
“They were instrumental in that motion in the ballpark, especially this time of year when it's so draining physically,” Showalter said. “It's uplifting. Don't think our players don't hear it and don't feel it. That's why it's a double-kick in the stomach when you aren't able to finish that one off, because it would have made for a lot more people watching the fireworks.”
Around the horn
After Saturday's game, the Orioles optioned right-hander Miguel Socolovich to Norfolk. The Orioles likely to bring up a position player today because of recent injuries. Tides outfielders Lew Ford and Nate McLouth are the most likely options. ... Catcher Matt Wieters was held out of the lineup again because of a tight right biceps, but he said he anticipates playing today. … The Orioles have posted their best record through 100 games (52-48) since 1997. … Of the Orioles' remaining 62 games, 52 are against teams that lead their respective divisions.
Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this article.