'Intense' Ripken makes a change for the better Work ethic results in new stance, success


April 26, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cal Ripken's whole career has been about making adjustments, manager Davey Johnson said yesterday, and his latest adjustment seems to have propelled him out of a batting slump.

Ripken began the season with a stance he used some in 1995 -- his bat held straight back, almost parallel to the ground. He started quickly, going 5-for-11 overall and 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position the first three games.

But pitchers began to jam Ripken. Fastballs inside, breaking stuff away. And Ripken went into a slump, his average dipping to as low as .231, after the Orioles' 10-7 loss to Boston on April 18. Then Ripken, who declines to talk about specifics of his hitting, changed the position of his hands, and, before going 0-for-4 last night, had hit in six consecutive games, including a four-hit effort Wednesday.

He hit his first homer of the year, turning on an inside pitch and pulling it over the left-field wall. Ripken now has 11 hits in his past 28 at-bats, with five RBIs, and his average has climbed to .288.

"He knows what he can do," said Johnson. "Cal's big and strong and keeps himself in good condition, but he's a smart player.

"He doesn't show it in his demeanor, but there's a fire burning in there and it's more intense than any perception [of it]."

Ripken always has tinkered with his stance, trying to get comfortable, making changes and trying different things until something begins to work. He fell into a deep slump in the days immediately after his record-breaking 2,131st straight game last year, and for two straight days in Detroit, he carried a barrel of balls to home plate and hit off a tee, onto an open field. Shortly thereafter, he broke out of his skid.

"One thing people don't know about Cal," Johnson said. "When he has a bad day, he might not be in the clubhouse for three hours. He's not spending time with autograph-seekers, either. It's to lift weights, pick up a bat, take some swings. That's him."

It used to be that when Ripken went into a slump, some made the connection with his consecutive-games streak. He was tired, it was said, he needs a rest.

Now that he's nearing 36, slumps will be connected with his age. Johnson said yesterday he has no plans to move Ripken to third, or give him a day off.

"I think that's something that -- when and if it's best for the team -- the first person who would probably suggest it would be Cal," Johnson said. "If we had somebody else [better], he would be the first to say, 'We should be doing this.'

"He knows what his capabilities are, what he's bringing to the table, where he needs to be. . . . I think at some point during his career, down the road, he'll come in here [to the manager's office] and say, 'Look, I'm having a hard time. If a game gets over at 1 a.m., I'm having a hard time playing at noon [the next day].' That's something he will know."

Johnson was asked if he would be involved in the decision to end Ripken's streak, if the streak doesn't end due to injury.

"I think it's in God's and Cal's hands," Johnson said.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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