I didn't get to see first baseman Derrek Lee and second baseman Brian Roberts on the field Wednesday, the two players I was hoping would play in the Baltimore Orioles' contest versus the Minnesota Twins when I planned my journey. But I did get to see O's manager and former ESPN analyst Buck Showalter (who says he prefers his work attire these days to the suit and tie he donned in the studio), and he provided status updates on his two infielders before the game.
Showalter did not seem particularly concerned about either Lee or Roberts. Lee, whom the Orioles acquired this offseason, has not yet played a spring game with his new team. He underwent right thumb surgery last fall and has progressed to the point of taking batting practice, but soreness in his wrist and forearm has delayed his spring training debut. Showalter indicated Wednesday that an X-Ray on Lee's wrist was negative, and although the veteran first baseman was scheduled for an MRI, there was no real cause for concern. Showalter pointed to an area on the top of the forearm, just above the wrist, where Lee was sore, and then reminded us that Lee didn't use some of those muscles regularly for 2-3 months while in a splint following surgery.
It's worth pointing out that Lee is 35 years old and also has a history of low back issues. Taking it slowly and cautiously is not the worst thing and the fact that Lee is a veteran gives Showalter reassurance in his ability to get up to speed quickly. That said, if it gets to be another week into March and there's still no sign of Lee, everyone will start to be more concerned. It's not out of the question that he could start the season on the disabled list if he is not 100 percent ready to return. The Orioles want Lee to be pain-free to start the season.
As for Roberts, his ongoing back issues essentially derailed his 2010 season, so hearing that he was scratched from Tuesday's game because of back spasms was disconcerting. According to Showalter, this latest setback is a minor one and not related to the low back problems Roberts faced last year. Apparently Roberts had some upper back spasms ("a knot in there," per Showalter) and even after resting Tuesday, he was still a little stiff Wednesday, so they opted to rest him another day. Showalter was also quick to point out that Roberts has already played in far more spring training games this year than he did last season. True. While there's still reason to be cautious about Roberts' ability to stay healthy throughout the season, there is no major cause for alarm either. At least not yet.
Finally, pitcher Justin Duchscherer was reportedly feeling well a day after pitching two scoreless innings against the Philadelphia Phillies in his spring debut. Duchscherer, most recently with the Oakland A's, is coming off left hip surgery to repair the labrum and resurface the joint, a procedure he underwent previously on his right hip. The increased mobility in both hips might actually alleviate some strain on his low back, which has been intermittently problematic for years. It's too early to say whether Duke will be able to stay healthy, but the outlook is promising. Next up for him is to throw three innings in an intrasquad scrimmage this weekend.