ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cal Ripken doesn't like to talk about his various bumps and bruises, much less count them, so it is natural for him to discount them as a significant factor in his slow start at the plate this year.
But what other explanation is there?
He was hit on the right elbow by a pitch during the first week of the season in Toronto. He was hit on the left elbow by a pitch last week in Baltimore. He has fouled a couple of balls off his left ankle. No wonder his offensive performance is such a sore subject.
"It would be easy to say that you're hurt, but in my mind that's not the case," Ripken said. "There are going to be stretches like that. I got hit a few times [three times in all]. I fouled a few balls off my foot. But that is no excuse or reason that I have not contributed."
That might be a matter for debate if Ripken were willing, but this is the guy who hasn't got time for the pain. He is unchallenged as baseball'smodern day Iron Horse. He is coming off an MVP season. He had hoped to pick up where he left off in 1991, but entered last night's game against the Texas Rangers with a disappointing .226 batting average.
There was nothing disappointing about Ripken's performance in the Orioles' 5-1 victory. He singled off the third-base bag in the sixth inning and hit his fourth home run in the seventh. If not for a convenient high hop on his sharp double-play grounder in the third, he might have ended up with three hits and four RBI. Still, his 16 RBI in 120 at-bats projects to about 90 over a full season -- satisfactory for anyone but last season's MVP.
"The thing about Junior is, he's such a complete player that we don't allow him to fail," manager Johnny Oates said. "He plays at such a level all the time that it's hard to realize he's human, just like anyone else.
"Even the best players are going to fail 70 percent of the time. He's contributing."
Ripken admits that the first month of the season was not a pleasant experience, at least from a physical standpoint. He was hit by pitcheson back-to-back days in Toronto (April 11 and 12). The ball that struck his right elbow left him with numbness in his fingers, which may have contributed to his three throwing errors in April. Depends on who you talk to.
"No one even knows," Oates said. "He doesn't want anyone to know."
Ripken has played through a lot of pain in the course of the consecutive-games streak that reached 1,605 last night. He once took advantage of a day off to keep the streak alive despite a severe ankle sprain. The problems he has experienced this year are not of the same magnitude as that, but taken in combination could explain a lot about his difficulties with the bat.
The thing that made him so successful last year was his ability to maintain a consistent approach at the plate. That has not been possible with a series of sore spots in areas that are essential to good hitting mechanics.
"You'd like to be able to do things the same way every day," Ripken said, "but that's not realistic. When you have nuisance injuries, you have to play through them."