FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken was scratched from yesterday's exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals because of neck stiffness.
Ripken said he felt "a little strain" in his left trapezius muscle while taking a swing in the batting cage shortly before the first pitch. He notified manager Mike Hargrove, who quickly decided to replace Ripken with Ryan Minor rather than risk aggravating the condition.
"It's not me. I let Grover [Hargrove] know and Grover made a decision," Ripken said.
Hargrove described the condition as "really not a big deal" and appeared to be following through on a pledge to err on the side of caution concerning his 39-year-old third baseman.
"Just on the basis of being extra cautious, Mike decided to give me the day. I'm sure during the season I could've played. I'm sure I could've played today," said Ripken, who Hargrove said is scheduled to accompany the club on its three-hour drive to Viera for tonight's exhibition against the Florida Marlins. "It's a little stiff and it can't be anything more than a mild strain."
Ripken experienced difficulty turning his head to the left, making it almost impossible to comfortably face a pitcher. He also found it painful to raise and lower his head. Ripken spent about two hours in the training room receiving ice and ultrasound treatment. He will begin accepting heat treatment if discomfort persists through tomorrow.
Less than six months removed from season-ending back surgery, Ripken is under especially close scrutiny this spring. He has participated in every drill and round of hitting while Hargrove has projected playing him in at least half of the team's exhibitions. Until yesterday, he had exhibited a full range of motion on defense while becoming used to a deeply flexed batting stance. Ripken is 2-for-9 with one RBI, two walks and no strikeouts in four games.
"Late in the spring, I might have very well shrugged it off. Early in the spring, you have the benefit of time. You can handle it a little bit more cautiously," he said of the strain.
The same could be said of the Orioles' public relations staff, which limited clubhouse access to starting pitcher Mike Mussina while Ripken was being treated.
Ripken's discomfort occurred on the same day his understudy, Jeff Conine, left camp to receive a cortisone injection in his inflamed right rotator cuff. Conine, a veteran first baseman and outfielder, has thrown himself into learning the new position; however, he may be feeling the consequences of making a large number of throws while practicing new footwork. Hargrove said he anticipates Conine will miss at least this weekend's road swing.
Since Tuesday, Hargrove has seen second baseman Jerry Hairston experience a groin pull and shortstop Mike Bordick miss three games because of the flu, in addition to the ailments of Ripken and Conine. Minor already has received nearly twice as many at-bats this spring (15) as last March when he was given only eight.