Ripken is getting back in the swing Subtle changes at plate pay off

July 17, 1993|By Brian Fishman | Brian Fishman,Staff Writer

Johnny Oates sees it. So does Greg Biagini. And it's not evident simply in the past week's box scores.

Cal Ripken has begun to produce again on offense.

He has gone 13-for-30 (.433) in his past seven games, with three home runs, eight RBI and eight runs scored. His average has gone from .215 to .233.

Go back three weeks and Ripken has 25 RBI in 31 games.

And he's hitting when it counts. In the Orioles' 9-7 win over the Twins last night, he delivered a two-run single with two out in the first inning off Minnesota starter Jim Deshaies. Ripken's hit put his team back into the game after the Twins had touched Mike Mussina for three runs in the top of the first.

There's more to Ripken's success. His look at the plate has changed somewhat -- enough for Oates and Biagini.

"His body's much quieter," said Biagini, the Orioles batting coach. "His upper body is more upright and his hands are now protecting the inside part of the plate. It's a combination of all these little changes."

Oates watched as Ripken tried three or four different stances. Now he sees his star putting additional weight forward and swinging with confidence.

Ripken, like any player in a slump, listened to advice, worked on his stance and took additional time in batting practice.

Help from Frank Robinson and Biagini, whether it be encouraging words or technical suggestions, has been accepted by Ripken.

"You make changes in your stance because you want to make something click," Ripken said. "The changes I've made allowed me to have more reaction time up there. I am focusing on using my hands more."

Ripken turned to one of the earliest baseball drills and began hitting off a tee for hours in his spare time. But when you've hit .218 in an 84-game run of misery -- as Ripken had done after starting the season 9-for-18 -- you're willing to try anything. Ripken did, and the early returns are promising.

"When you get more hits, you feel more comfortable," he said. "If you're tense, you can't adjust in the same amount of time."

Ripken's discomfort was evident as he struggled on offense through the first half. After he was voted to the All-Star team for the 10th straight year, he said he had considered the possibility of withdrawing from the game at Camden Yards. "Professionally, I don't feel very good about going when the [batting] numbers aren't very good," he said the week before the All-Star Game.

Yet those close to Ripken saw signs that the numbers might start improving.

"I've seen Cal work off a tee for a while," Oates said. "I'm just amazed at the things he does in practice. He's hitting the ball into the stands off the tee and there are not a lot of players that can do that. I've seen him hit it halfway up the stands here at Oriole Park at Camden Yards."

His seven-game surge coincides with the team's push toward first place. Even when he wasn't producing offensively, he remained one of the best defensive infielders in baseball. If he stays hot, the AL East plot is that much more difficult to project.

"His record speaks for itself," Oates said. "Before long he'll be up to .250 and 20 home runs and then who knows?"

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