Ripken nears return to lineup, Miller says

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

He's no longer wearing splint on bruised wrist

July 19, 1999|By Roch Kubatko and Jamison Hensley | Roch Kubatko and Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Manager Ray Miller remains convinced that Cal Ripken soon will return to the lineup after suffering a deep bone bruise on his right wrist during Thursday's game against Montreal.

Club officials had projected that Ripken would miss at least three to four games after being hit by Mike Thurman's pitch in the second inning, with the disabled list a possibility. Further tests haven't revealed a fracture, however, and Ripken took fielding practice yesterday and was able to freely rotate the wrist between light tosses after it being in a splint earlier.

"He was unbelievably improved [Saturday] night during the game," Miller said. "He came out without the [splint] on. I said, `Where is it?' and he said, `I'm healed.'

"[Trainer] Richie Bancells said it was much, much better. He could press on it. Cal heals better than anyone in the world."

Miller didn't discount the possibility that Ripken could play tonight.

"We'll just have to see how he bounces back and see if he's ready to hit," Miller said.

Benitez returns

In his first game back in Baltimore, New York Mets reliever Armando Benitez treated his teammates to steamed crabs in the clubhouse before last night's game and they thanked him with some good-natured ribbing.

Standing at one end of the table, reliever John Franco poked fun at Benitez, asking, "Armando, when's the welcoming parade for you?"

Benitez just smiled and shook his head.

The former Orioles closer appeared quite relaxed in his return to Camden Yards, where many fans remember his emotional outbursts and playoff breakdowns more than his 37 saves in his five-year major-league career here.

"It's normal being here," said Benitez, 26, who was traded to the Mets in a three-team deal that sent catcher Charles Johnson to the Orioles. "It's no big deal. A new team, a new life."

Taking advantage of the fresh start, Benitez has posted a team-best 1.90 earned-run average and has recorded three of his six saves this season since July 3, when the Mets placed their closer, Franco, on the disabled list. He still maintains the same high-90s-mph velocity, striking out 56 batters over his last 30 1/3 innings.

More importantly, though, Benitez said he has better control. Control of his temper, that is.

As an Oriole last year, he incited a brawl with the New York Yankees on May 19 when he hit Tino Martinez in the back. Three months later against Cleveland, Benitez was chewed out by Miller after walking three batters in one inning and then flipping his glove in the air.

And Benitez didn't endear himself when he was involved in three losses during the 1997 American League Championship Series, giving up an 11th-inning home run to Tony Fernandez in Game 6 that ended the Orioles' wire-to-wire season.

As a result, he became the target of boos and said near the end of last season that he believed fans to be more critical of him than other players on the club. But he shied away from any negative remarks yesterday.

"I remember more good things than bad things," Benitez said. "Right now, I'm real happy."

Still, Franco couldn't contain himself before the game, asking Benitez, "Is it going to be safe to stand next to you here?"

Benitez responded: "Yeah, it's not like Yankee Stadium."

Receiving hero's welcome

Carla Overbeck, co-captain of the World Cup champion U.S. women's soccer team, threw out the first pitch for last night's game and received a standing ovation from the Camden Yards fans. Overbeck and the rest of the team is scheduled to meet President Clinton at the White House this morning.

"I was nervous," said Overbeck, who tossed a high-arcing pitch to Eddie Murray. "I was afraid I was going to throw it in the dirt."

Johns seeking work

As reliever Doug Johns stood in the clubhouse yesterday pondering where all his innings have gone, he spotted Sidney Ponson walking past and knew the answer.

"These guys keep going nine innings and messing up everything," he said.

"My bad, dude," Ponson said, grinning.

Johns began the year in tandem with Ricky Bones as the club's long and middle relievers, a busy job in April when the starters were getting knocked around and leaving games early. But before his appearance last night, Johns hadn't pitched since July 5 in New York, and that appearance lasted only two-thirds of an inning.

Before that, he had pitched in six of 12 games beginning June 20, but also had gone 11 days without getting the call until his work load increased.

His latest period of down time led Johns to throw on the side twice while the club was in Philadelphia before the All-Star break. "If I don't get in tonight I'll probably throw on the side for maybe five minutes to stay sharp," he said before the game. "I try to throw all of my pitches even when we warm up before batting practice to stay sharp that way."

Miller attributed some of Johns' inactivity to being "a little tender just before the break and after the break, so we backed away from him.

"He's been available the last three days but the starters are going pretty well."

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