Hop back in step, Ripken returns to lineup

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He goes 1-for-4, gets RBI double in 1st at-bat after two-game layoff

April 10, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken claimed to see a light at the end of the tunnel Thursday concerning his recovery from lower-back pain.

Yesterday, he saw something else: his name in the lineup.

After missing consecutive starts for the first time since September 1981, Ripken returned to third base last night against the Toronto Blue Jays. Braving wet and windy conditions, he doubled to right-center off starter Kelvim Escobar in the second inning, driving in Albert Belle. Ripken grounded out twice and popped up in his other at-bats.

Ripken wore a jacket while standing outside the batting cage before the game, removing it each time he took his swings. He also fielded ground balls effortlessly from bullpen catcher Sammy Snider, but had to endure a 1-hour, 35-minute rain delay and a light shower that fell as the Orioles emerged from the dugout.

"I'm feeling a little better than I did yesterday, and I felt really good yesterday," he said before the game. "I had to contain my optimism a little bit yesterday. It made sense to give it another day. Today, everything was a little bit better. I went out and did some baseball things and everything was pretty loose and pretty good. I was moving well, swinging the bat freely. It went kind of how I was hoping it would go."

Ripken had to be hoping for better weather, though he wasn't letting the forecast dictate his agenda.

"I'm happy with it feeling the way it does. You can't handpick the days when you're going to play," he said.

Though not willing to place a percentage on his health, Ripken said: "I feel really good right now. I feel like I've got a little hop in my step and I've got a little pop in my hands. I'm really happy with where I am physically right now."

Ripken had to leave Monday's opener in the third inning because of spasms in his lower back, the condition being so restrictive he had to bunt in his only at-bat. He went to Good Samaritan Hospital as a precaution, and had his name removed from the lineup before the next two games after speaking with manager Ray Miller.

"An extra day to him is like a week to anybody else," Miller said.

As for whether he'll have to make certain concessions this season to remain in good health, Ripken said: "I think you just take it as it comes. See what happens. Go out there and play the game and see how things react. But I don't anticipate any setbacks."

DeShields may return today

Assuming he got a positive report on Delino DeShields' rehab start at Double-A Bowie last night, Miller said there was a "high possibility" the second baseman would be activated before today's game.

DeShields appeared in two simulated games this week at the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., before flying here Thursday. He hadn't faced live pitching since fracturing his left thumb in a March 4 intrasquad game.

A roster spot must be cleared for DeShields, with middle infielder Jesse Garcia likely headed to Triple-A Rochester unless Jeff Reboulet goes on the disabled list with tendinitis in his left heel.

Webster returns to bench

One night after taking his usual place behind home plate, across from Scott Erickson, Lenny Webster returned to the bench to await his next opportunity.

Webster hasn't been given any assurances from Miller that he'll be in the lineup each time Erickson is handed the ball. This became more apparent when told by his manager on Wednesday of the next night's assignment.

"He said it wasn't because Scottie was pitching. It was because he wanted to get me in there," said Webster, who went 2-for-4 in his first start.

Erickson has stated his preference to remain paired with Webster, as they were in Minnesota, rather than be teamed with four-time Gold Glove catcher Charles Johnson. "When you work with somebody for such a long time and you've had a lot of success, it's only natural you'd want to keep things the same," Webster said.

"It's like having a security blanket in the sense that I know how he thinks and he doesn't have to shake me off. I have a good feel for what he wants to do. When you get a pitcher and catcher working like that, it keeps a guy in a good rhythm. And he's definitely a rhythm pitcher. But it's nothing against C.J. He's good at what he does."

Webster has requested a trade so he can receive the playing time he said was earned last season, when he appeared in a career-high 108 games and hit .285 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs. He batted .362 with 10 RBIs this spring.

"I've vowed not to talk about that stuff anymore," he said. "I've expressed my desires and they've been in the papers, and I'm not going to say anything more. I don't want to ruffle any feathers. I'm here in Baltimore and I'll do everything I can to help this club win when I get an opportunity."

Webster has discussed his feelings with Johnson, who came to the Orioles in a three-team trade over the winter, to make sure there were no misunderstandings.

It's nothing personal, he insists. In fact, Webster has been such a fan of Johnson's that he almost signed with the Florida Marlins before the '97 season.

"It's good to be here with him. I admire his work. But at the same time I would like to play. It's nothing against him. I want to see him catch 130 games and hit .300 with 25 homers and drive in 100 runs. It would be great. But I can only sit back and watch, and I don't know how glorifying that would be for me. We've talked about that. We get along great."

Around the horn

Shannon Stewart hit his third career leadoff homer.

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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