Ripken appears headed for DL

Iron Man sits out again after back pain strikes

April 19, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Three days after telling team trainers that his lower back pain had dramatically eased, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken was forced from yesterday's lineup against the Toronto Blue Jays and seems headed for the disabled list.

Ripken will be examined today by a Cleveland orthopedist after a recurrence of the pain. Team officials were careful not to speculate on the extent of Ripken's latest problem, but a club source indicated it is a virtual certainty that Ripken will land on the disabled list for the first time in his 19-year career.

"I need to get it checked out," Ripken said. "I need to confirm what I've been doing is the right treatment."

Ripken will be examined late this afternoon by Dr. Henry Bohlman, professor of orthopedics at Case Western University and the director of the University Hospital Spine Center.

Bohlman treated Ripken for a herniated disk during the summer of 1997. At the time Ripken endured pain and numbness that extended into his left leg, causing him to drag the limb.

Bohlman did not suggest surgery, instead prescribing a series of exercises that allowed Ripken to strengthen the muscles around the region. Ripken abstained from the routine during a trying spring training.

Bohlman also supervised treatment of Orioles pitcher Scott Kamieniecki last summer and eventually performed disk fusion surgery on his neck. Kamieniecki rehabilitated in time to participate in spring training but is currently on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.

Ripken, 38, did not undergo a magnetic resonance imaging when examined on April 5 but may receive such an exam today. General manager Frank Wren could not assure that Ripken would return to the club in time for tomorrow night's game in Tampa Bay.

Ripken received treatment before yesterday's game and did not take batting practice or infield. He sat on the bench during much of the Orioles' sixth loss in seven games but was gone before the clubhouse opened after the Orioles' 6-0 loss.

"Right now, we really don't know anything except that Cal experienced some tightness last night and has further discomfort this morning," Wren said. "Anything beyond that we're going to have to wait on the doctors."

Ripken expressed more concern over the latest relapse than on Opening Day, when he insisted he would not land on the disabled list.

"For me, right now it's very disappointing," Ripken conceded. "I thought I had turned the corner. I felt very good coming in here [Toronto]. I told Richie [head trainer Richie Bancells] I thought it was behind me and that I had the capacity to work and do the things necessary to play and get better. But that's changed at this point. So it's concerning and it's disappointing. Not having the answers and not having gone through too much of this thing, I don't know what lies ahead and what to expect right now."

However, Ripken indicated that pain that previously had been confined to the left side of his lower back has spread to the middle and right side. Though club officials refused to speculate on the development, the latest discomfort suggests a more profound problem than spasms.

"I'm optimistic as always," Ripken said. "I'd like to say, `Sure, I'll be in Tampa.' But I've got to wait until after the examination."

Dismissing the condition as "spasms" that would decrease with rest and a steroid injection, the Orioles never seriously entertained putting Ripken on the DL earlier this season after he left in the third inning on Opening Day.

However, club sources speculated earlier that surgery might become a consideration if Ripken's back did not progress within three weeks of Opening Day and a link was found to the herniated disk that nagged him during much of the 1997 season.

Ripken said he experienced minor tightness in his lower back early in Saturday afternoon's game. However, he was able to outrun a potential double-play grounder and then went first-to-third on a single without discomfort. Ripken also went 1-for-5 with an RBI. Afterward he notified Miller of a slight "twinge."

He awoke yesterday with significantly more discomfort, which did not ease despite extensive treatment. Miller scratched him from the lineup, giving rookie Willis Otanez his fourth start.

"I had something grab early during the game similar to how it felt the day before Opening Day. It's not exactly the same, but it's concerning. I have better mobility and I can do certain things, but a couple things you do it really catches and grabs," he said.

Ripken was virtually immobilized by pain April 5 and did not play April 7-8. Until Saturday he believed himself on the mend.

"You try to rationalize by saying it's an ache or a pain because of playing on turf. I get those from time to time," said Ripken, recalling his thinking, " `Let's not analyze it too critically now; let's wait until tomorrow morning and see what happens.' Then tomorrow morning came and I realized it was something more than an ache or pain."

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