Webster encouraged by workout

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Activation in week possible

slumping Ripken sits 1 out

May 31, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Encouraged by yesterday's pre-game routine, catcher Lenny Webster hopes to escape the disabled list by next weekend's series against Philadelphia, but must pass another important test today in Seattle.

Webster tested his sore right ankle tendon -- injured when he recoiled from a brushback pitch against Cleveland May 12 -- by running 15 wind sprints under the supervision of trainer Richie Bancells. Feedback was markedly better than Webster's first workout of the road trip in Anaheim and more encouraging than a less strenuous series of sprints on Friday. Today Webster plans to catch for the first time since the injury, which inhibits his ability to flex the foot.

"I think the next few days will be the real key," said Webster, unable to run or swing a bat last Tuesday, at least partly because of neck stiffness following a cross-country flight. "If things are going all right then, I think next weekend is realistic."

Manager Ray Miller says the issue is how much pain Webster can stand. There is apparently little risk of further injury.

However, Webster admits he may have set himself back earlier in his rehabilitation by pushing too soon. He has swung a bat on several occasions, but has yet to face live pitching.

"It's a matter of me getting back there [behind the plate] squatting up and down. Then I have to see how I feel after squatting for a while whether anything happens the next day. These two days will be big," said Webster.

In his absence, Charles Johnson has assumed an unacceptable load, missing only one start while appearing in 23 consecutive games. Johnson has diluted the issue by hitting nine home runs this month -- a career high for any month -- and raising his overall average from .179 to .272 on May 23, before falling to .256 in the past week. Miller gave rookie Tommy Davis his first major-league start Saturday, but acknowledged yesterday that Webster's prolonged absence beyond next weekend might force a trade.

Webster described his timing as "shaky" but he has a history of quick offensive recoveries following down time. "Each time I swing it gets better," he said.

Ripken sits

As heavily suggested the night before, Miller gave third baseman Cal Ripken his first day off since the third baseman came off the disabled list May 13. Ripken had hit safely in 12 of 15 games since, going 15-for-57 with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBIs to raise his overall average from .179 to .235. Ripken is hitting .118 with one run scored on the 6-game-old road trip. Jeff Reboulet started in Ripken's place, receiving his first start since May 18, and went 0-for-3 with a walk.

Speed it up, J. Johnson

Maybe it was four straight games played in under three hours or maybe it was the fact that he thought players were falling asleep in the field, but Miller was not pleased with Jason Johnson's deliberate pace during a three-inning start Saturday.

"I've always said you work fast, change speeds, throw strikes. If you work fast, when something goes wrong you can slow down," said Miller. "If you're working slow, it means your guys are on their heels. You preach all spring that 120 pitches means Mike Bordick has to set 120 times. Each time he's breaking on a pitch. He needs timing, too.

"If you take 30 or 40 seconds between every pitch, those guys maybe don't break as quickly as they normally would. The next thing you see is a ball going off the end of somebody's glove."

Johnson threw 61 pitches in his outing, walking only one. However, Miller chafed at the ponderous process between each delivery, a problem he partially attributed to Davis making his first major-league start. But with Davis catching, Miller noted that reliever Doug Johns energized the game. Coincidentally, the Orioles rallied for seven unanswered runs.

"He's pretty easy to read. If he don't have it, he don't have it," Miller said. "But when he's on, you're off the field. Of all the people we have in the bullpen, he's the only one we have who is consistently off in 15 pitches."

Johnson did endear himself with a knockdown of No. 8 hitter Ryan Christenson with two outs in the third inning. Miller construed the message pitch as saying, "Enough's enough" after the A's pounded Johnson for six hits in a span of 12 hitters.

"There's nothing wrong with that," said Miller. "You watch some hitters and they're diving into the plate every pitch. The head goes to the middle of the plate every time. Sooner or later, if you're a pitcher you've got to take away the outside part of the plate."

Saturday recap

For five innings the Orioles were held to one hit by Oakland starter Gil Heredia and found themselves trailing 5-0. Battering one of the league's better bullpens with 11 hits and consecutive home runs, the Orioles rallied to reward Johns (1-1), who pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Johnson.

The Orioles chipped away at a five-run deficit with one run in the sixth inning and two more in the seventh against Heredia.

With two out and no one on in the eighth, Will Clark hit an apparently harmless single against left-hander Buddy Groom. Right-hander T. J. Mathews came in to face Albert Belle, who singled to right. Harold Baines hit the next pitch for a three-run homer to deal Mathews (5-1) his first loss. B. J. Surhoff capped the two-out rally with a pinch-hit home run for a 7-5 lead, which Arthur Rhodes held for his second save.

Around the horn

The Orioles' win Saturday was only their second of the season when trailing after seven innings. They are now 2-24 in those situations. The loss snapped Mathews' nine-game win streak dating to last June 27. It was the second-longest in the majors to Roger Clemens'. Baines' homer ended a string of 51 2/3 homer-free innings by A's pitching. Baines also went deep yesterday, giving the Orioles home runs in 23 of 27 games this month (44 overall).

Pub Date: 5/31/99

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