A hit in Fla., Ripken moves to Texas

Iron Man to rejoin O's, probably be activated

May 12, 1999|By Brant James | Brant James,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Looking like an impatient man while completing what he considers the most patient phase of his career, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken concluded two days of rehabilitation work in Florida yesterday, persuading club officials he's healthy enough to rejoin the club.

Ripken, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 17 with nerve irritation in his back, went 3-for-6 against the Minnesota Twins' Gulf Coast League affiliate at Lee County Sports Complex yesterday, and played five innings of defense free of discomfort.

He later spoke with Orioles general manager Frank Wren, and a decision was made to have Ripken fly to Texas tonight and take batting practice tomorrow before determining if he's ready to be activated.

"I had to consider the ramifications of coming back too soon," Ripken said. "It was surgery or be patient. The patience was the hardest thing to do."

Ripken had been originally scheduled to play another game today in Sarasota before being re-evaluated. But his overall 5-for-13 effort, and the ease of motion and lack of discomfort he displayed before player development director Tom Trebelhorn appeared to signal the end to his first-ever disabled list stint.

"I think everything indicated from Tom and everything Cal had to say made it seem like the right move," Wren said. "Everything I had heard was most encouraging."

Manager Ray Miller echoed the sentiment.

"I talked to him and he was real elated," Miller said before last night's game in Cleveland. "He said he hit the ball extremely hard each time. He took 100-and-some swings in the cage, took 35 or 40 swings off the coach, went to another field and took 10 minutes of ground balls, then 10 slow rollers. He sounded like a little kid on the phone. He was pretty excited by the way he felt.

"Knowing Cal, he probably wants to get on a plane and come here [Cleveland] for one game, but the smart thing is to work out tomorrow and make sure everything's OK and then join us there."

Wren said Ripken's proving himself in game action was crucial.

"We had to have him test the back in live action where everything speeds up," he said. "The last thing you want to have happen is you activate him, and he's not quite ready and you have, in effect, a 24-man roster."

Ripken agreed. "It's good to feel good again," he said. "You can simulate fielding, but you can't simulate hitting in a game. I did some things to extend myself to find out where I was physically. I think I'm ready."

Miller won't waste any time finding out if Ripken is activated.

"If he's here, I want him to play," he said. "Especially when you're playing a club like this [Cleveland] or Texas. You want him fielding the ball. You can't afford mistakes."

Ripken went 2-for-7 on Monday against a Pirates affiliate.

He was sent to the Orioles' extended spring training complex in Sarasota so he could accrue more work in the more relaxed atmosphere of the Gulf Coast League. Ripken, playing with mostly first-year pros in their teens, was allowed to lead off every inning.

In the first he doubled off Twins starter Dancy LaRosa, took third on a bunt, and scored on Mamon Tucker infield hit. Ripken flicked a 2-2 changeup to right in the second before being tagged out on a double play. He popped out three consecutive times before singling to left off Jesus Morel in the sixth. Ripken handled two chances in five innings at third base, catching a pop-up and committing an error on a chopper near the mound.

Ripken is batting .179 with two RBIs and a team-leading five errors in eight games with the Orioles this season. He said he knows his career will be considered in decline until his production proves otherwise, although he doesn't necessarily think that's fair.

"You'll find people make judgments on very little knowledge," he said. "If you judge me on [28 at-bats], what does that say about your ability to judge? But [the injury] certainly raises questions about the future, though."

Ripken said doctors had described his condition as spinal canal stenosis. The condition is caused when repeated pounding on the vertebrae prompts a flattening of bone that narrows the spinal canal.

The leg numbness and spasms that had required the injection of three cortisone shots was a result of vertebrae contact with the spine.

The condition, he said, is not connected to the herniated disk he endured in 1997. Ripken is scheduled to continue taking anti-inflammatory pills to treat the nerve irritation.

"I have every reason to believe it'll lay down," he said.

Ripken stretched under the supervision of minor-league medical coordinator Guido VanRyssegem yesterday, and will continue exercises, he said, to "strengthen and stabilize" his trunk.

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

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