Hurting Ripken flies home

Milestones put on hold after back spasms flare anew for O's Iron Man

August 03, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken returned to Baltimore yesterday because of back spasms, and the club has begun making contingency plans in case he is forced on the disabled list for the second time this season.

Ripken, 38, will be examined today by the club orthopedist, Dr. Michael Jacobs. He also may visit Dr. Henry Bohlman, a professor of orthopedics at Case Western University who gave him a cortisone shot earlier this season when a similar condition forced the first trip to the DL in his 18-year major-league career.

He was a late scratch from Sunday's lineup after complaining of stiffness in his back. Ripken noticed some improvement later in the day, but was stricken with spasms while eating breakfast yesterday morning.

"He immediately got on a plane," said manager Ray Miller. "When you start getting that electric sensation in your back, that's when things can get bad, so he wanted to get it checked right away and hopefully stave it off. We won't know anything until [today].

"He said, `The last time it got like this, I waited too long to get something done.' He said, `I want to get it checked out.' The back's such a sensitive thing. All of us who have had back problems know."

Although club officials say the condition came on by itself, Ripken had slipped rounding first after one of his two hits Saturday, putting a hand down to catch himself awkwardly and prevent a fall.

The timing couldn't be much worse for Ripken, who is hitting .352 since coming off the DL. He batted .413 in July, and remains just one home run away from No. 400 in his career and 32 hits shy of 3,000. Miller had noted in recent days how Ripken was one of the club's freshest players and looking more comfortable at the plate than he had in years.

The Orioles were short one player last night, but could summon third baseman Ryan Minor from Triple-A Rochester as early as today. While the club hasn't ruled Ripken out for the Oakland series, it is unlikely it would want him to make two more cross-country flights this week.

Minor made four starts at third base, going 1-for-10, after Ripken was hit on the right wrist by a pitch in the first game after the All-Star break.

"Minor's had a real good week," Miller said. "I imagine we'd lean toward that. And I don't think it's really fair to judge him off three days. He's been hotter than [heck]. He hit two out of Richmond [Sunday] night."

In Ripken's absence, B. J. Surhoff was given his first start at third base since Aug. 29, 1996, just before the club acquired Todd Zeile. Surhoff made three appearances there the next year, when Ripken moved to third from shortstop, and none last season.

Miller has used Jeff Conine at third on four occasions this season, most recently Sunday, when he threw away a bunt that led to a 3-1 loss in Seattle. Conine started in left field last night.

Surhoff has taken some grounders at third during batting practice. Asked yesterday if he was ready, he said, "No, not ready, but I always bring my glove. I'll do the best I can. At least I've been over there. It's not fair to ask Jeff."

Surhoff said he wasn't given any indication that the move would extend beyond last night. "[Miller] just asked me if I could play third today," he said.

Miller was reluctant to start Jeff Reboulet at third because he's struggling at the plate and 0-for-10 in his career against Kevin Appier, who started for Oakland last night.

Miller also indicated he was looking farther ahead than this season by moving Surhoff to third.

"I think long-term one of our goals last year was to move Brady [Anderson] to left field. That's one of the things we talked about. If that's the case in the future, then B. J.'s going to have to move to the infield or something. I just put him there now because he's the guy we go to in extra innings. B. J. goes to third base and Cal goes to short."

Pub Date: 8/03/99

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