Webster ready to lend hand, though it's sore from bat blow

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Catcher `very fortunate' bone not broken

Ripken's progress impresses Miller

May 08, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Though still bothered by some swelling and soreness in his right hand and wrist, Orioles catcher Lenny Webster was available for last night's opener of a three-game series against the Detroit Tigers.

Webster took a few swings to test the hand, which struck the bat of Chicago's Ray Durham in the third inning of Thursday's 4-2 victory. He experiences some pain on contact but said it's nothing that would prevent him from playing.

Webster was attempting to throw out a stealing McKay Christensen, and the bat hit him with such force it spun toward the mound. He was taken for X-rays, which were negative.

Charles Johnson replaced Webster, and he was in the starting lineup last night.

"I told Ray if he needed me to play, I could," Webster said.

Hearing the sound of bat hitting bone from the dugout, manager Ray Miller feared Webster had suffered a break. Webster lost feeling in the hand, but it slowly returned after the X-ray. He hit off a tee as Thursday's game continued, "but I figured today was going to be worse," he said.

Had the Orioles needed to place him on the disabled list, Miller said he wasn't sure who would have been recalled from the minors. Jayson Werth is the top catching prospect, but he's at Single-A Frederick. Tommy Davis, who's playing at Triple-A Rochester, impressed club officials this spring but is hitting .224.

"That's the first thing I thought when he went in for X-rays: `Who am I going to get to catch?' " Miller said, adding that B. J. Surhoff would have been the emergency catcher if Johnson had been injured Thursday.

Webster never saw his throw bounce to second because he immediately turned away and fell to the ground. "I had no clue where the ball went," he said.

"I was very fortunate."

He's been very busy fielding calls from friends and family. "They say, `That didn't look good.' Well, it didn't feel good either."

Ripken `back to normal self'

As Cal Ripken continues to eye a return to the active roster during the current road trip, Miller has been encouraged by the way the 16-time All-Star's back has responded to increased physical activity.

Ripken took early batting practice again yesterday and fielded ground balls at third. A club official said it still hasn't been determined whether Ripken will make a rehab appearance in the minors.

"Two days ago he was running the bases, taking ground balls, he swung in the cage and swung on the field. He came back the next day and said he felt great. It seems like a lot has cleared up here, too," Miller said, pointing to his head.

"He's back more to his normal self."

Scorching Surhoff

Surhoff and Albert Belle were in the lineup against Tigers left-hander Justin Thompson, remaining the only Orioles to play in every game this season.

Miller has wanted to give Surhoff a breather, but the left fielder is hitting .382 (34-for-89) over his last 22 games, and homered twice in Thursday's win. He has batted .373 (19-for-51) in 13 games since replacing Will Clark in the No. 3 slot.

His line single in the first inning last night set up the first run and his third-inning single preceded Belle's three-run homer.

"He's playing so good," Miller said. "I had him out about a week ago and I put him back in there."

Belle walking tall

Seeing fewer pitches to hit, Belle began last night in a 5-for-30 slump that lowered his average to .239.

Belle walked in four of his last seven plate appearances against Chicago, giving him 28 before last night. The next-closest Oriole was Brady Anderson with 15. Belle never has walked more than 99 times in a single season.

"It was very obvious [the White Sox] were not going to give him a fastball anywhere near home plate," Miller said. "He's walking and scoring runs, and driving in some when he can. [Harold] Baines has been cleaning up because [Belle] has been walking all the time.

"The only thing I suggested is, `When you let it go, let it go. Take a big, aggressive swing.' When you try to guide the ball, that's when you make mistakes."

Belle apparently took Miller's advice to heart, hitting a sacrifice fly to the wall in the first inning and clearing it with a three-run shot in the third.

The Tigers, having learned their lesson, joined the rest of the league and walked Belle in the fourth.

Coppinger demoted

The Orioles last night optioned pitcher Rocky Coppinger to Triple-A Rochester to clear room for Scott Kamieniecki, who makes his first major-league start today since August.

Kamieniecki began the season on the disabled list with a strained hamstring. Coppinger started twice, going 0-1 with a 13.50 ERA.

Around the horn

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