TAMPA, Fla. - Brian Roberts feels little pressure, even with the big shoes he's being asked to fill.
"They just want me to be on the field with a uniform on, I think for the most part, and the rest is icing on the cake,'' Roberts said Tuesday night before the Yankees lost, 3-2, to his former team, the Orioles. "Nobody thinks I have to go out and do a ton.''
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The expectations are relatively low for Roberts, signed in the offseason after 13 years with Baltimore, to, in essence, replace Robinson Cano.
But the 36-year-old isn't being asked to be that kind of superstar. For now, the Yankees will take Roberts, a two-time All-Star, staying on the field. They believe if the switch hitter does, production will follow.
"I think there's still a lot of good baseball in him and that he'll play at a high level for us,'' said Joe Girardi, who had Roberts in the lineup for a second consecutive game. "I really believe he's going to thrive here, I really do.''
Girardi and Orioles manager Buck Showalter have had their share of disputes in recent years, but they agree on Roberts' potential to help the Yankees.
"He's in a good place, I wish it had been somewhere else, I wish it was in the National League, but these things happen,'' Showalter said before watching Roberts single and walk in two plate appearances. Scott Sizemore replaced him in the sixth inning.
"Everything you associate with a veteran, he'll bring. A threat from both sides of the plate. He's got a little more thump than people think. He's more than just -- some people want to say pest -- but he's more than that. I hope he's healthy for his sake. But not for the Yankees' sake. I think he will be, too."
"It's all about timing sometimes. He'll do every bit of work it takes to be on the field. That's never been a question.''
The question is how healthy Roberts can stay. The second baseman has been limited to an average of 48 games the last four years because of injuries. This spring, it's been so far, so good.
Roberts already has gotten high marks from shortstop Derek Jeter and has gone through every drill without difficulty. On Tuesday night, Roberts started a 4-6-3 double play in the first inning to stifle a rally.
"He's been rock solid,'' Yankees first base and infield coach Mick Kelleher said. "Workouts, baserunning, everything. He's gone through everything and looks really good. A few years ago he was in the upper echelon of second basemen in the league. If he can play and stay healthy, his skills are still there.''
In Baltimore, Roberts, when healthy, was counted on to set the tone as the leadoff man. He was seen as a major cog. With the Yankees, Roberts is merely a piece. Not an insignificant one, but in a lineup that features Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann, the pressure isn't the same.
"It's different to be the guy that nobody cares about or knows about,'' Roberts said with a smile. "I think that does help at times when you're trying to get back on your feet a little bit.''
Roberts disagreed with the premise of a question that cited the "burden'' of being "the man'' in a lineup.
"I don't think it's necessarily a burden,'' he said. "It's an honor to be someone that your city and your fans and your organization count on. It's just different.''
He smiled again when considering being "the man.''
"I think there's a time and a place for it,'' Roberts said. "I'm 36, and I understand very few guys are that guy at 36.''
With David Lennon