Leading off with Roberts item

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - If second baseman Brian Roberts is going to bust out of his slump, he’ll do it from atop the order.

No big surprise here. Roberts is the club’s leadoff hitter and there aren’t many options if manager Buck Showalter wants to lower him.

J.J. Hardy would be the likely replacement. Felix Pie has speed, but he doesn’t play every day and he doesn’t steal bases.

It’s a moot point.

Showalter has dropped Mark Reynolds to ninth and he’s willing to make other changes, but Roberts is the leadoff hitter.

“There’s always something you can do, but Brian by far is our best option and he’ll continue to hit there,” Showalter said. “The problem is we’ve struggled for the most part as a group and moving things around is a challenge because you don’t really have somebody on top of their game enough, with some exceptions, to change things a lot. I’m not saying that might not still happen, but it won’t involve Brian.”

Jake Fox is making his fifth start behind the plate today, as Matt Wieters gets a much-deserved break after a stretch that required him to catch 13- and 12-inning games this week. Wieters, of course, wants to start every game.

“Catching is hard to do,” Showalter said. “You don’t ever want to take it for granted or assume that ... I know he gets sore. I don’t care how young you are. What he says to me and to you and what he really internalizes are probably two different things and it’s one of those decisions you almost have to take away from him.

“The second catcher in the American League and in any league is going to have to catch. You have to keep your people healthy.”

When it was suggested that Fox isn’t a “traditional” backup, Showalter replied, “How would you define a traditional backup catcher? I think most catchers are capable of playing in other places. (John) Jaso and (Kelly) Shoppach can play first base. Jake brings that ability that he can play somewhere else, but I wouldn’t necessarily categorize him as unconventional.

“You could. I’m not going to.”

Showalter hopes to lay off Jim Johnson for one more game.

Kevin Gregg insists that he’s available every night. He worked all three games of the Mariners series at Camden Yards earlier this week. He once pitched in nine of 11 games with the Marlins.

He’s one of those guys who seems to pitch better when he’s busy.

“We looked at some of the times when he wasn’t necessarily pitching well and it’s usually with a lot of time off,” Showalter said. “That’s why it was tough early on when the spots weren’t there all the time. We actually invented some spots to get him back out there. That’s part of juggling a bullpen.

“We keep a card on the other team’s bullpen coming in, seeing who might not be able to pitch and who would be able, and just about every team that we face has somebody with four or five days off. And that’s why pitching out of the bullpen is such a challenge, and a challenge for managers to keep that many guys operating at a high rate. You can go into any bullpen with maybe the exception of theirs and you’ll find two or three guys who have struggled statistically.”

Gregg has emerged as a bullpen leader, which we anticipated after the Orioles signed him.

“One of the common themes of everybody we talked to was what a great teammate he is and what a team-oriented guy he is,” Showalter said. “Kevin’s not afraid to speak his mind when he’s right. He’s not into excuses. I think he understands the reality of what a guy in the bullpen and on a major league team has to be about.”

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