Ripken won't play as DH in final games Third baseman, Johnson reach decision


status to be checked each day

September 26, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Cal Ripken will play the final three games of the season as he has the first 159 -- by starting at third base rather than serving as designated hitter.

The decision, reached yesterday afternoon by Ripken and manager Davey Johnson, supports Ripken's contention that a chronic back condition that has followed him for almost the entire second half has eased.

Johnson said he will go to Ripken before the next three games to check his status. According to the player, he shouldn't expect a change.

"[Designated hitter] wasn't discussed in the plan," said Ripken, who came out in the sixth inning last night -- an example of how Johnson will rest him before the playoffs. "To me, it seems like there are certain roles on the team. In order for us to get everybody ready, the DH slot is used for people who really fill that role. I'm still interested in improving physically, which requires remaining in the field. DH isn't really part of the plan."

Ripken said he originally suffered the back injury July 13 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

To combat the inflammation and pain of a bulging disk, Ripken conceded taking an oral anti-inflammatory steroid. "It enabled me to go out and play," he said.

Last night, he committed his 22nd error but it came on a short-hopped throw after Ripken ranged into foul territory.

Johnson last week left open the possibility of Ripken acting as designated hitter but has experienced a change of heart given the third baseman's increased range. He is also influenced by Ripken's opposition to the idea.

"It's not something I'd ask," Johnson said. "If Bobby Bonilla didn't like it [last year], how do you think Cal would take to it?"

The slumping Ripken grudgingly admitted to the DH possibility last week. However, in the Orioles' last seven games, his lateral range has improved significantly. He also mentioned that by serving as designated hitter, he would take at-bats away from others, such as Geronimo Berroa, Eric Davis and Harold Baines.

Since Sept. 16, numbness in Ripken's left leg and tightness in his lower back have eased. He made two strong plays in Tuesday's late innings.

"I think he's more concerned with getting his stroke where he wants it to be," Johnson said.

Ripken is batting .139 (5-for-36) in his last 12 games. He hasn't enjoyed a multi-hit game since Sept. 5 and last homered Sept. 7. Ripken, however, refuses to blame his health problems.

"When I was going through the worst part, the team was still

winning and I was still able to contribute offensively," he said.

Ironically, Ripken says as his health has improved, his slump has only deepened.

"It's nice to get results, and that's the bottom-line indicator," Ripken said. "[Wednesday] I was able to swing the bat and pull a number of balls foul. When you have a good swing and hit the ball well, those are indicators that things are getting better. The bottom line is you get the opportunities in the game to do it. "

With Ripken hitting No. 6 in the order, he serves as protection for B.J. Surhoff and Berroa.

"A slump is a slump. This has been a prolonged slump," Ripken said. "You have to hit rock bottom before you go back up. I'd like to use these last three games for things to click in and get hot going into the playoffs. Then you're able to really contribute."

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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