Back sends Ripken to DL again

He gets cortisone shot, rest as quest for 400 on hold at least 2 weeks

Off-season surgery possible

Oriole's condition like in April

Minor recalled

August 04, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Because of lower back pain that again has him facing the possibility of postseason surgery, Cal Ripken will have to sit on 399.

The Orioles yesterday placed Ripken on the disabled list for the second time this season, retroactive to Aug. 1, after he underwent an examination by Dr. Michael Jacobs, the team's orthopedist, and received a cortisone injection.

The move means Ripken won't resume his pursuit of his 400th career home run until at least Aug. 16, but will more likely have to wait until later in the month, a delay that could jeopardize his reaching 3,000 career hits this season.

Team officials described Ripken's condition as virtually identical to the condition that forced him onto the disabled list for the first time in his 18-year major-league career from April 18 to May 12.

"I was told in a best-case scenario it would be 10 days the very-best-case scenario," said manager Ray Miller.

"You really just never know," said general manager Frank Wren. "Since we've gone through this once before we have a sense of the timetable. He responded fairly well after that. We'll just look at the DL period and see what happens after that."

To assume Ripken's roster spot, Ryan Minor was promoted from Triple-A Rochester. His presence means there won't have to be a repeat of recent uncomfortable configurations that left Jeff Conine and B. J. Surhoff at third base in the Orioles' losses Sunday and Monday. Surhoff on Monday made his first start at the position since Aug. 19, 1996. The Mariners successfully exploited Conine's inexperience at the position Sunday in a 3-1 win.

Ripken, who turns 39 later this month, returned to the lineup after missing five games due to a deep bone bruise in his right wrist to homer three times July 24-25 against the Anaheim Angels, bringing him to the threshold of becoming the 30th player in major-league history to hit 400 home runs.

He suffered near-misses in consecutive games July 28-29, almost shaving the left-field foul pole one night then slamming a double only inches from the top of the left-field wall the next afternoon. He has 2,968 hits.

"I want to see him get 400 home runs. I want to see him get 3,000 hits," Miller said. "But with a back you never know which way it's going to go. It's just remarkable he went so long without an injury. All those dives and running into people and just the act of hitting."

Shortstop Mike Bordick called Ripken's relapse "very surprising." Like the rest of the clubhouse, Bordick had marveled at Ripken's recent surge, which included a .413 average in July and 16 extra-base hits, including five home runs, in his last 20 games.

"I think it probably surprised him, too," Bordick said. "He was playing so well and, boom, all of a sudden something like that hits."

Ripken had been scheduled to conduct a youth clinic in Oakland on Monday with his brother, Bill, and former teammate Joe Orsulak. However, Ripken realized while eating breakfast that the spasms that had bothered him the day before were not easing. He then decided to make the six-hour flight back to Baltimore.

An Orioles official said Ripken is not expected to seek a second opinion, but Ripken has previously sought input from Dr. Henry Bohlman, a professor of orthopedics at Case Western University in Cleveland. After taking a cortisone shot yesterday, Ripken will rest for several days. He will then likely begin follow-up treatment during the Orioles' four-game homestand against the Detroit Tigers and continue after the club leaves for a six-game, seven-day trip to Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

If Ripken's back improves, he may fulfill Miller's optimistic timetable. If not, the possibility of surgery grows. Whatever his decision, the organization will exert minimal influence.

"I can't answer that," said Wren. "That's one for Cal and the doctors to determine at some point."

His remarkable recovery in May allowed him to postpone the decision, which Ripken himself has conceded to be "inevitable."

Ripken suffers from stenosis, an irreversible narrowing of the spinal column. The narrowing promotes inflammation of the nerve, which leads to spasming. Rehabilitation from surgery would require three to four months, necessitating a decision by the end of the season.

Ripken could not be reached for comment yesterday; however, in his May return he admitted surgery "was one of the alternatives. And if the problem comes up again it will become fairly clear, but right now the nerve is laying down in a small little bed."

Added Ripken: "Once it gets to a point where it's not quiet and I can't function, surgery becomes likely."

Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

Orioles today

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

Time: 4: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Jason Johnson (2-5, 5.58) vs. A's Jimmy Haynes (7-9, 5.12) Pub Date: 8/04/99

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