Technically eligible to leave the disabled list today, third baseman Cal Ripken has reached the final stages of evaluating methods to rehabilitate his lower back and says he has experienced significant improvement in recent days.
Ripken appeared with Cuban third baseman Omar Linares before last night's exhibition, finessing questions about his possible retirement and never mentioning surgery as a possible remedy for the condition that landed him on the disabled list retroactive to April 18.
In fact, he said he's "very encouraged" by his condition.
"I've fielded ground balls and thrown, I've hit," Ripken said. "I'm on a gradual rehab kind of program and I feel like I'm ready to bust out, but I'm using some good judgment and patience and not risking reinjuring it."
Though he wouldn't directly address the possibility of retirement, Ripken, 38, said, "I think you have a long-term outlook when you're a rookie. The first couple years you have your full career ahead of you. At a certain point you have a limited amount of time left.
"Coming off a time that's been mentally frustrating for me and mentally distracting for me, dealing with my father's diagnosis of cancer and his passing, and physically going through an injury, it kind of casts the future in an unknown light. You just have to deal with it in a day-by-day situation and evaluate and analyze your performance as you go along.
"But I'm very encouraged that physically I'm starting to be armed with feeling very well. I'm not going to rush myself back into it, but once I feel healthy and once I've got my head on straight, then we'll judge and see how far your career will go."
Ripken did suggest another regimen of exercises designed to promote "trunk stabilization." Such a program enabled him to recover from a herniated disk in 1997 to play pain-free last season, stretching his record consecutive-games streak to 2,632 before voluntarily sitting out the Orioles' final home game last Sept. 20.
Ripken apparently laid out a sketch of his rehab yesterday to general manager Frank Wren, but refrained from specifics at a news conference. However, his return now appears sooner than later.
Kamieniecki exits early
Coming off four hitless innings in a rehab start at Single-A Frederick, Orioles pitcher Scott Kamieniecki didn't find the Cuban hitters quite as accommodating last night.
Aiming for a return to the rotation later this week, Kamieniecki lasted only 1 1/3 innings before Miller removed him for Doug Linton with the bases loaded and the Orioles behind, 3-2.
Kamieniecki threw 53 pitches, compared to 45 in last week's game in Frederick. Only 16 went for strikes. He allowed five hits and walked three. Three of the runs off him were earned, the other scoring on an error by first baseman Calvin Pickering.
Kamieniecki, still on the DL with a strained left hamstring, also had to endure a 56-minute rain delay with the Orioles batting in the first inning. He managed to get through the first unscathed despite walked a batter and allowing two hits. Roberquis Videaux was thrown out trying to steal before the Cubans got consecutive two-out singles.
Nine of the 12 batters Kamieniecki faced reached base. He had only one swinging strike.
"Obviously it was a tough situation to begin with," Kamieniecki said, "and when you throw in the conditions, it makes it that much tougher. But I just didn't do a good job of pitching. As bad as my physical performance looked, I can safely say my mental approach was worse. If you want to call me a mental midget today, that's pretty fair. I wasn't really into it for some reason."
Anderson cheers umpire
Brady Anderson had a close view of Cuban umpire Cesar Valdez's tussle with a sign-carrying fan in the fifth inning, rushing in from center field as the combatants were locked together. Anderson didn't give Valdez a high score for his wrestling technique.
"I thought he was having a hard time with the takedown," Anderson said. "He had him in a good position and just couldn't get him turned over properly. Then he finally had a good takedown and the umpire got some shots in. Not really solid shots like I would have liked to have seen. More like glancing blows. I wanted something a little more violent. If a guy's going to come out there on the field and waste my time, I expect him to get pummeled."
Asked if he's ever seen an incident like that before, Anderson said, "I've played in Mexico. I've seen a lot of stuff."
4 arrive, Pickering to stay
The Orioles were permitted some roster shuffling for the exhibition as Miller deactivated four starting pitchers to make room for Pickering, outfielder Eugene Kingsale, pitcher Maximo Heredia and closer Derek Brown.
For Pickering, the call-up was a double thrill as he will remain with the Orioles to spell Harold Baines as left-handed designated hitter and become part of a first base platoon with Jeff Conine.
"I can't continue to play Harold six or seven days a week," Miller said. "I've got to [rest him] once in a while."