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Brian Roberts seeks steady progress

SARASOTA, Fla. -- As Brian Roberts strives to regain the form that made him a two-time All-Star second baseman, he derives satisfaction from making progress in small increments.

Roberts, who didn't play after May 16 last season because of concussion symptoms, headed to the back fields Friday with the rest of the Baltimore Orioles and instantly became the center of attention.

"I'm feeling pretty good in general," Roberts said. "I took part in some beginning baseball activities, trying to get my conditioning up and going through a systematic progression of trying to get where we want to get to."

To this point, he's been limited to hitting off a tee and soft toss, running and light weightlifting. The recovery process has been slow and often interrupted by headaches and nausea, but Roberts appears to be making progress.

His routine pretty much stayed the same Friday. He stretched and jogged to get loose, and played catch with shortstop J.J. Hardy before heading to the indoor batting cage to take some swings.

Roberts, 34, has played in only 98 games the past two seasons, and the Orioles are proceeding as though he won't be available in 2012. They'll gladly make the necessary adjustments if their leadoff hitter proves them wrong.

"Every day that goes by you're more encouraged," he said. "We've certainly had some rough patches for sure, but every day is a new day and every day we're taking a step forward at this point."

Roberts first sustained a concussion after smacking his own helmet with his bat after striking out in a late-September game against the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, and the symptoms returned after he divided into first base last season.

Roberts won't project whether he'll be ready by Opening Day on April 6, when the Orioles host the Minnesota Twins at Camden Yards.

"I know we've made some progress and that's been very encouraging, but I don't think anybody's got a definitive timeline on him," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We all know what it would mean to get him back, but what are you going to do if he's not able to? I think it's prudent on our part to prepare both ways, and we have.

"It's a lot easier to write a lineup, but for every one that I've written with him, there's three or four I've written without."

Asked about his status for April 6, Roberts said: "I can't go that far. I don't go backward any more, and I don't go too far forward.

"At this point, I wake up and it's Friday morning and that's today, and I say, 'This is going to be a great day.' I'm going to do everything that they allow me to do today, and tomorrow morning I'm going to do the same thing. If that results in me being in Baltimore on April 6, I will be grateful, for sure. If that ends up being some other day, then so be it. But at this point, I take it day-by-day, as cliche as that is. That's probably what we all should do in life, but at this point, that's what I do."

Roberts admitted that he's had doubts whether he'd get back on the field and resume his career.

"I think everyone in life has moments of doubt, things that they're doing," he said. "I've had times when I'm healthy that I said, 'God, I can't do this anymore.' I don't mean that negatively. At any point in life, sometimes you don't think you're that good at what you do and through this, I've had my tough days.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some really, really tough days and some days where you had to think pretty deeply about where your life was going and what you still wanted to accomplish and still could accomplish. But ... I couldn't listen to those thoughts as much as the professionals who deal with it who were telling me, 'We're going to get there. We are going to get there.' Unfortunately, it's always on your own time frame."

Robert Andino, who emerged as Roberts' primary replacement last season, likely will start at second base. Andino set career highs last season with 139 games played, 120 hits, 22 doubles, five homers and 36 RBIs.