Ripken sees `light at end of tunnel'

Back still improving, he, Wren say no need for DL


April 09, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Third baseman Cal Ripken sat for a second consecutive game last night, but according to Orioles general manager Frank Wren, he remains an unlikely candidate for the disabled list.

Describing himself as seeing "the light at the end of the tunnel" in his recovery from lower back pain, Ripken stopped short of predicting his return tonight but all but dismissed the notion of being unavailable for an extended period. Wren said the club will likely wait until at least tomorrow before considering the disabled list as an option.

His projection may coincide with second baseman Delino DeShields' return from the DL following a brief rehab assignment.

"I'm very optimistic. I can do a lot right now," Ripken said. "But it's one of those situations where it's early in the season and you want to give it one more day."

Last night and Wednesday represent the first time since Sept. 12-18, 1981, Ripken had missed consecutive starts. Ripken missed five straight starts that week, which came barely a month after his Aug. 8 call-up from Triple-A Rochester. Ripken also missed back-to-back starts on Sept. 9-10 that season.

"I like to do things. I like to stay active," said Ripken. "When you ask me to sit down and ask me not to do anything, it's not in my nature. But when you think about it, it makes total sense. I want to get the benefit of that extra day's rest."

Ripken spoke at length with team orthopedic doctor Michael Jacobs on Wednesday and was made aware of the benefits of a cautious approach. Ripken described Tuesday's pain as excruciating enough to have made playing impossible.

Wednesday he experienced enough improvement to make his availability an option. Yesterday, Ripken said "tingling" in his left leg stemming from his back condition had further dissipated.

"In the first five days, if you're encouraged by what you're seeing, you live with it," said Wren. "The second five days, that's when you get serious. If it's going to make it harder, that's when you have to [disable] him. That's the basic rule of thumb."

While club officials, including Wren, are publicly abstaining from linking Ripken's condition to the herniated disk that hobbled him in 1997, three seems little doubt the two are related. Ripken's symptoms -- lower-back pain and numbness in his left leg -- are identical to the previous problem. In that instance Ripken pushed through the pain. However, with this season still in its early stages, there is little reason to attempt a similar feat.

However, pressed on whether he thought he might land on the disabled list, Ripken said, "Absolutely not."

At 3: 30 p.m., Miller had not placed a magnetized name beside third base on the lineup board outside his office. Moments later he slapped Willis Otanez's name into the vacancy and engaged Ripken in a brief closed-door meeting.

"He's really happy with the progression from yesterday to today," Miller said. "During the conversation we agreed it was probably better to wait one more day."

Miller, stung by criticism of his handling of the matter, repeatedly referred to Ripken as "day-to-day." He refused to elaborate on his possible return.

"It's a very agonizing and tough thing to sit and watch the game," Ripken said. "Every night you want to be in there. I'm sure tonight is going to be worse. But it's something you've got to do."

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