Improving Ripken plans return

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Back just `agitated,' he eyes leaving DL next Tuesday

Figga has homecoming

August 10, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Third baseman Cal Ripken accompanied the Orioles on their seven-day road trip and indicated yesterday that the nerve irritation that forced him to the disabled list retroactive to Aug. 1 has eased enough to resume his trunk stabilization program.

Based on the past week's progress, Ripken said he expects to leave the disabled list when first eligible next Tuesday.

Since accepting a cortisone injection shortly after the roster move, Ripken's symptoms have noticeably eased. A week ago he could only walk gingerly through the clubhouse and admitted experiencing repeated spasms while standing in place for more than several minutes. Yesterday, he emerged from the trainer's room in workout clothes able to flex his leg.

"If the nerve was angry a week ago, I guess I could say it's agitated now. Hopefully it will soon be happy," he said.

Ripken said he might pay a "social visit" to Cleveland orthopedic specialist Dr. Henry Bohlman during the Orioles' three-game series against the Indians this week.

Ripken was examined by Bohlman while suffering from a herniated disk in 1997 and in April this season when he went on the disabled list a first time.

Ripken indicated he does not anticipate having to make a rehab assignment as he did in May.

"In two weeks you don't lose your edge. You might not be as sharp as if you played every day, but I don't see why you can't be tested again," said Ripken, who had hit safely in 18 of 20 games with five home runs and 17 RBIs before experiencing sustained pain while eating breakfast Aug. 1.

When Ripken returns, manager Ray Miller reiterated he could be elevated in the batting order to assist his chances of reaching 3,000 hits this season.

Ripken stands at 2,968 hits and 399 home runs and would have 45 games to play if able to return when anticipated. Acknowledging that Ripken could bat No. 2 or No. 3 in the order, Miller estimated the promotion from his customary No. 6 or No. 7 could mean as many as 25 more at-bats over the balance of the season.

First base shuffle

Even with the presence of Devil Rays right-handed rookie Ryan Rupe, Miller opted to sit left-handed-hitting first baseman Will Clark in favor of Jeff Conine.

Miller has tried to find more at-bats for Conine and has recently given him outfield starts in place of B. J. Surhoff and Albert Belle. Last night he rotated him for Clark, who entered in a 5-for-26 skid and whom Miller prefers not to play in stretches on artificial turf. Miller said he gave Clark the option of playing either last night or tonight against Dave Eiland.

Conine and Clark carry similar numbers. With a pinch double last night, Clark is hitting .300 with 10 home runs and a .483 slugging percentage in 240 at-bats; Conine, who was 0-for-4 with an RBI, is hitting .288 with eight home runs and a .456 slugging percentage in 285 at-bats -- though Conine has had an easier time driving in runs recently.

Clark has only one RBI since July 20. Much of it has to do with infrequent opportunities, as he is batting .303 with runners in scoring position, including .459 with fewer than two outs.

Figga comes home

Rookie Mike Figga experienced a first-time thrill last night as 35 family members and friends were left tickets or paid their way into Tropicana Field to see the Orioles' backup catcher play.

The Tampa native was claimed off waivers from the New York Yankees in June. With the Yankees he had been in the visitors' dugout but never appeared in a game. Last night Miller paired him with Jason Johnson. The start was Figga's 12th with the Orioles.

Figga, 0-for-3 with a strikeout, also made an error when his throw to stop Jose Guillen's steal in the second inning short-hopped Mike Bordick, allowing a run to score.

Gold in Bordick's future?

Bordick has put together a quiet but credible campaign for his first Gold Glove award, a tough task in a league populated by Sports Illustrated cover boy and Yankees icon Derek Jeter, MVP runner-up and Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and the Seattle Mariners' potential $20 million player, Alex Rodriguez.

Bordick, who leads AL shortstops in fielding percentage and assists, committed his fifth error during Sunday's 11th inning against the Detroit Tigers -- his first since June 17, a 46-game span.

"I know every time we're in a tight situation I'm sitting there in the dugout hoping they hit the ball at Bordick," said Miller.

Around the horn

Surhoff had two hits to end an 0-for-11 drought, his second-longest this season. Surhoff was 4-for-31 in his previous seven games, dropping his average to .319. It marked the first time his average had dipped below .320 since April 25. Surhoff's only longer skid came in three games (0-for-12) on the West Coast May 26-28. Recovering from his 3,000-hit celebration, third baseman Wade Boggs did not start last night. The Devil Rays' starting lineup included three players -- right fielder Guillen, center fielder Terrell Lowery and second baseman Tony Graffanino -- who started the season in the minor leagues or with other organizations. Paul Sorrento's fifth-inning home run gave Tampa Bay 111 this season, equaling its total from all of last year, when it had the fewest in baseball.

Pub Date: 8/10/99

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