Ripken gets night off to `sort things out'

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Hitting .174 with 5 errors, Iron Man admits pressing

April 17, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Taking another step into "uncharted waters," Cal Ripken was given off last night against the Toronto Blue Jays. Unlike his two scratches last week, manager Ray Miller's decision was based more upon Ripken's performance and personal difficulties than his lower back.

"I just thought I'd give him a blow. We got in [from New York] at 4 a.m. Maybe this will give him a chance to sort things out," Miller said.

Ripken took early batting practice at SkyDome but did not participate in pre-game infield. Though Ripken was unsure whether he might be used as a pinch hitter, Miller made it clear that he wanted the All-Star watching rather than playing -- at least for one day. It was the first day Ripken sat due to a manager's decision since May 29, 1982, the day before his remarkable consecutive-games streak began.

"I'm not putting words in Ray's mouth, but it may be better to think about some things and sit back," Ripken said. "Maybe it'll be a help. Maybe it'll be useful. My whole career I haven't had much practice at this."

Ripken endured one of his most difficult games in recent memory in Thursday's 9-7 win over the New York Yankees. He went 1-for-5 thanks to a single against Roger Clemens and made two errors on the same two-out play during the Yankees' five-run second inning. Ripken, who committed only eight errors in 161 games last season, has made five in his last four games. Rust, not stiffness, is the main culprit, he insisted.

"I've been putting pressure on myself, trying to get comfortable fast," he explained yesterday.

When Miller approached Ripken with his plan there was little give-and-take, but the idea met with Ripken's acceptance.

"I certainly understand the logic," Ripken said.

The dilemma tugs hard at Miller. He now grapples with a situation that worries the most experienced manager: dealing with a certain Hall of Fame player during the autumn of his career.

Ripken, 38, insists that his physical condition is much improved over last week when severe lower back stiffness kept him out of the lineup for consecutive games. The combination of dealing with the March 25 death of his father, Cal Ripken Sr., and compensating for a distracted spring training has exacted an obvious toll. Ripken's typically sure hands have failed him several times and his bat remains uncertain. He is hitting .174 with two doubles and an RBI in 23 at-bats and carries more errors (five) than hits (four).

"A lot of things have happened -- my personal situation dealing with my dad it's something I've never experienced before; my injury at the beginning of the season created a lot of uncertainty; the other thing is just playing," Ripken said.

Ripken left the team two days before his father's death and returned for the last four exhibition games. Besides carrying the loss of the most influential person in his life, Ripken also has faced the struggles of an aging player who lost valuable time for preparation.

"Physically, he's coming. Cal's been through an awful lot the last few weeks," Miller said. "I lost my father 27 years ago and I still have days when I feel it. It's something with Cal that just happened recently. It's still there. It has a little bit of an effect on your psyche as far as enjoying yourself."

Miller declined to say whether Ripken will return to the lineup tonight against Blue Jays starter David Wells.

"I've had a rocky start so far," Ripken said. "But I'm not someone who will quit by turning my back. You try to turn the tide of whatever your problems are."

Don't step on that line

Don't tell Ricky Bones he has no reason to be superstitious.

Before last night's game, the veteran right-hander had pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings in four appearances after allowing a run on Opening Day.

But he was hesitant to discuss his newfound status as the Orioles' most consistent middle/long reliever.

"I hope [people noticing] doesn't change anything," Bones quipped before the game. "I feel good about the way things have gone so far. I'm here to help the team win. That's my biggest concern."

Sure enough, he went out and gave up hits that drove in the tying and winning Blue Jays runs in the seventh and eighth innings.

Bones, who turns 30 today, came to the Orioles in December when they were the only team to offer him a guaranteed contract. He spent last season with the Kansas City Royals, going 2-2 with one save and a 3.04 ERA in 32 relief appearances.

Orioles pass on Wohlers

The Orioles quietly bowed out of the Mark Wohlers sweepstakes yesterday when the Cincinnati Reds traded for the enigmatic Atlanta Braves reliever. Besides picking up about $1 million of Wohlers' $6 million salary, the Reds sent reliever John Hudek to the Braves. Orioles general manager Frank Wren confirmed the club's interest but claimed the price was too high for a pitcher who suddenly lost his ability to throw strikes two years ago.

"We just thought there was too much risk to justify it," Wren said. "Not only from a financial standpoint but from a personnel standpoint. We just didn't think it was right for us, especially when you're not sure of there being a return -- ever."

Around the horn

Both national anthems were performed by Mount Hebron High School marching band of Ellicott City. The group is in Toronto to participate in a marching and drill competition. First baseman Will Clark extended his season-long hitting streak to 10 games with a fifth-inning double. Clark entered the game batting .455 (10-for-22) against right-handed pitching. Second baseman Delino DeShields is only five RBIs shy of 400. He needs 16 stolen bases to reach 400.

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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