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Roberts looking forward to more playing time

TAMPA, Fla. -- Second baseman Brian Roberts has yet to turn his first double play in a Yankees uniform, but he won't need much time to get acquainted with his partner up the middle, as Derek Jeter has already made a lasting impact on his career.

Roberts has gotten to know Jeter a little bit from going head-to-head in the American League East and as teammates in the World Baseball Classic, but they also shared an on-field conversation early in Roberts' career that had some staying power.

"I think it was maybe 2004. I was on second, and he just said, 'You can hit .300 in this league,'" Roberts said on Monday. "To hear it from someone like that, it just kind of opens your eyes. I don't think it's just me; I think he does it to everybody.

"But for some reason, when he tells it to you, you think you're the most important person in the world. He's just kind of got that personality, and he's so good with people."

Roberts said that after going up against Jeter and the Yankees for so many years as a member of the Orioles, he is looking forward to having a front-row seat to Jeter's final season. Roberts expects something akin to Cal Ripken Jr.'s farewell tour in 2001.

"That was an amazing experience, to walk those last few months with Cal," Roberts said. "I remember him hitting a home run in the eighth or something in Atlanta, and he got a curtain call. When does that ever happen? And I could see the same thing here happening.

"There's such a select few guys that have meant what they've meant to the game, and it's going to be an incredible experience to play with him this year."

The Yankees are counting on the fact that Roberts will be on the field as their starting second baseman. After missing 445 games over the past four seasons because of abdominal, hip, concussion and hamstring issues, he is optimistic about seeing more action.

"I try to take it one day at a time," Roberts, 36, said. "[Manager] Joe [Girardi] and I talked a little bit, and we have some expectations, but we haven't put too much on it right now. ... My goal is to come in every day and be prepared to play. Whatever he wants to do, if my name is in the lineup, I'll be ready to go."

Girardi expects Roberts to be his starter, but he is not ready to put a target number on how many games he will play. Girardi said that Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan and Eduardo Nunez could be the backup options behind Roberts.

"I still think that he can play and he can hit," Girardi said. "We saw it when he played against us. He's still a guy who can play at a high level, it was just he had a hard time staying healthy.

"He had some big years in Baltimore. I don't know if he's going to be that, probably because he won't play 160 games in the season, but I still think that this guy can be productive."

At one time Roberts envisioned playing his entire career in Baltimore, but he did not have any substantial conversations with the Orioles about a contract for this season.

He heard from the Yankees early in the winter, even before Robinson Cano signed his 10-year, $240 million pact with the Mariners.

"I never really thought about it, because I never thought [Cano] was going anywhere, to tell you the truth," Roberts said.

Roberts said that the comparisons with Cano will be inevitable, but he will try to block them out.

"I'm sure there are going to be people that are going to want to look out there and say, 'He's not Robbie,'" he said. "I'm not going to be Robbie, and I'm not going to try to be. I'm going to be Brian Roberts. Hopefully, that's good enough most days."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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