Injury trouble catches up to Webster again

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Strained ankle tendon has catcher day-to-day

Ripken due back tonight

May 13, 1999|By Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss | Roch Kubatko and Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

For the second time in two starts, Orioles catcher Lenny Webster had to leave a game early because of injury. Last night, he suffered a strained tendon in his right ankle in the fourth inning while falling backward to avoid a tight pitch from Cleveland Indians starter Dwight Gooden.

Webster grimaced as he bent forward at the waist, then limped off the field with trainer Richie Bancells.

Webster's spikes caught in the dirt as he fell, and the ankle kicked over. "I thought I snapped it," he said. "I watched the replay and it was ugly. It felt ugly."

"Right now, it's not going to be one or two days. I put all my weight on it when I catch. We'll know more about it in a couple days. I don't think anything's fractured, but we'll see how it goes. It's hurting right now."

Webster is more angry about the pitch being thrown near his head as he squared to bunt. He said Gooden also threw at his head last season after he had singled in a previous at-bat.

"He knocked me on my [rear end] last year," Webster said. "I'm trying to bunt and get a guy over and he throws a pitch at my head. I don't know if it was on purpose or it got away from him, and I don't [care]. It's at my head."

Charles Johnson, who had started the previous five games, struck out while completing Webster's at-bat and took over behind the plate.

Webster hadn't played since being hit on the right hand and wrist by the bat of Chicago's Ray Durham in the third inning of last Thursday's game at Camden Yards. Johnson replaced him, then went on a tear, hitting four homers in the three-game series in Detroit. He went 1-for-10 in this series, including a bases-loaded walk Tuesday.

Webster still has some swelling along the side of his wrist, but said he felt "good enough to play."

Pickering likely to minors

The Orioles plan to option first baseman Calvin Pickering to Triple-A Rochester to make room for Cal Ripken, who will be activated from the disabled list before tonight's game in Texas. They're waiting until today to see if Webster will need to go on the disabled list, and because Pickering has the flu and the club doesn't want him flying.

Pickering, who is 0-for-7 with five walks in seven games, slept on a couch in the clubhouse while the Orioles took batting practice.

Manager Ray Miller said Ripken took a flight to Texas yesterday after working out at the club's minor-league facility in Sarasota, Fla.

Clark's return hardly happy

As homecomings go, first baseman Will Clark could be returning to The Ballpark in Arlington under much better circumstances.

Instead, he revisits the Texas Rangers tonight a hostage to the disabled list and powerless to prove the club erred when it declined his invitation to re-sign him last December as a free agent. Though Clark called the Rangers' decision to sign former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro to a five-year, $50 million contract "ancient history," Clark allowed his irritation to show, if only subtly.

"Baseball is a business now," he said. "Baseball is not a game. Baseball is a game now when you're an amateur, not when you're a professional. And because it is a business, things are done not as baseball moves but because of money. I fully understand that."

Clark publicly encouraged the Rangers to re-sign him at the end of last season and was scheduled to fly to Dallas to re-sign when Palmeiro stoked interest with a phone call to general manager Doug Melvin. Clark says he hoped to finish his career with the Rangers, but after Palmeiro bolted, he instead signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Orioles.

"Nobody wants to pull up roots and leave, but it didn't work out that way, so move on," Clark said. "I'm happy being in Baltimore. It's a great baseball city."

Saying only that he phoned the Rangers' front office several times for an explanation to their decision, Clark was asked if he received a valid explanation.

"Not valid," he said. After a pause, Clark added, "I asked, but validity was not there."

Disabled by a broken thumb suffered April 18, Clark has begun to swing a bat but is still believed at least another 10-14 days away from returning. For now, his average is frozen at a team-high .370.

DeShields' back improves

Having gotten through Tuesday's game without incident, Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields was in the lineup again last night and encouraged by his improved physical condition.

DeShields hadn't started the first two games of this series because of pain in his lower back, which surfaced on Sunday while the club was in Detroit. He continues to receive treatment from Bancells, who informed Miller yesterday of DeShields' status.

"I was worried about him all night. I grabbed him finally because he doesn't give you much of an answer, and he said he's OK," Miller said of DeShields. "Richie said he's a lot better today."

DeShields said he felt restricted while playing Tuesday. He beat out an infield hit and stole a base in the fourth inning, and doubled and scored in the sixth. Both times, the discomfort showed on his face.

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