`Personal issues' weigh on Ripken

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Coping with father's death `not easy'

O's eye Wohlers

April 14, 1999|By Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss | Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Reporting significant progress in his physical condition, Cal Ripken made his fourth consecutive start last night in the Orioles' 6-3 loss to the New York Yankees. The spasms in his lower back that caused him to miss two games and leave the opener prematurely have subsided, but Ripken said he continues to deal with "personal issues" revolving around the death of his father on March 25.

"Reality is reality. We all go through things in our lives, no matter what you do. We all deal with them in slightly different ways. The best thing you can do is try to deal with them directly and up front and just try to go about what you normally do," he said.

"It's not easy. No one said it would be easy. But you can't run away from them. I'm not the type of person to run away from them. I'm just trying to deal directly with it and try to make it work. It's not the easiest time for me, but you take it for what it is and move on.

"Personally, it's one of the most challenging moments in my life. How it impacts on the rest of your life, I'm not totally sure yet, but I'll deal with it the best that I can."

As Ripken stood in the visitors' clubhouse before the game, his uniform jersey with the No. 7 on one sleeve hung in his locker. The digit is being worn by all the Orioles in memory of Cal Ripken Sr.

"I don't get too caught up in it," said Ripken. "It's a very nice honor, a nice memory all the way around, but I hold different memories."

Ripken's double in four at-bats last night lifted his average to .200 (3-for-15) with one RBI. He missed significant time this spring after leaving the club to be with his family, and said his swing had just begun to come along when his back flared up.

"Physically, you need the capacity to go out there and work and swing the bat, and I can do all those things now," he said. "It was a little bit of a setback that I didn't get as many at-bats in games that I wanted to. When I came back I felt like I was ready to start the season, and then you have an injury. So, it stands to reason, logically, that it's a minor setback. But it doesn't feel like it's a major setback."

He's never been accustomed to dealing with injuries in a career that defined him as baseball's Iron Man, but Ripken, 38, has been forced to accept change this year.

"There are a lot of different things that have happened to me lately that I really haven't had experience with and am not prepared for. An injury certainly is one of those things," he said. "There are a lot of uncertainties, but you deal with them and learn from them."

O's consider Wohlers

The Orioles have expressed interest in obtaining exiled Atlanta Braves reliever Mark Wohlers, who was designated for assignment last weekend after refusing a minor-league assignment.

Braves general manager John Schuerholz has until April 22 to manufacture a trade or else Wohlers will be released, becoming a free agent. The Orioles and every other interested club must decide whether Wohlers is worth a player, his $6 million salary and a spot on the major-league club, a difficult decision given the right-hander's inability to throw strikes over the past two seasons.

"I think you have to be interested in anybody with an arm like that," general manager Frank Wren conceded before last night's game. "Beyond that, I really can't comment."

At his best, Wohlers is among the game's most intimidating power pitchers who converted 106 of 123 save chances from 1994-98. He also secured the final out of the 1995 World Series and showed himself capable of thriving in a hitter's paradise, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Wohlers' star plummeted last season, however, when he could not find the plate. He ended the season at Triple-A Richmond and was excluded from the Braves' playoff roster due to "an inability to pitch."

Reluctant to expand their staff to 12, the Orioles would virtually have to in order to carry Wohlers, who bombed in two regular-season appearances with the Braves after constructing an encouraging spring. His exhibition performance -- 10 strikeouts and 11 walks in 9 2/3 innings -- left him in the mix for the Braves' closer role. Given their lack of leverage, the Braves would likely assume a significant portion of Wohlers' contract and accept a mid-level prospect.

Around the horn

After allowing 20 runs in their first 18 innings this season, Orioles starters have given up just four in the last 18. The Orioles' eight hits off Ramiro Mendoza raised the opposition's average off Yankees starters from .128 to .156 (26-for-167).

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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