SEATTLE - Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken was held out of last night's lineup because of persistent discomfort in his lower back and left leg, but manager Mike Hargrove refused to classify the condition as anything more than what Ripken has been confronting for much of the past six weeks.
For only the fourth time in his career, Ripken served as designated hitter Thursday night but labored noticeably while running out several ground balls. On his hardest hit ball of the game, Ripken was thrown out easily by David Bell after the Seattle Mariners' second baseman ranged to his right into shallow center field, wheeled and threw across his body.
Club officials concede Ripken will likely endure some degree of discomfort for the remainder of the season, something the third baseman hoped he might avoid after receiving an injection to calm an irritated nerve in his lower back on May 15. Earlier this month, Ripken said doctors believed it would take approximately six weeks for the nerve to calm down. The six weeks pass on Monday, the same day the Orioles touch down in Boston following a cross-country flight from Seattle.
"It's pretty much what he's been dealing with the whole time," said Hargrove, who met with Ripken after Thursday night's 11-4 loss to discuss his weekend schedule.
Hargrove said he expects Ripken to play today and tomorrow.
Ripken is hitting .253 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs. His home runs are tied for third-most on the club and his RBIs trail only Albert Belle and Mike Bordick. In his last five games, Ripken is hitting .111 (2-for-18) and last homered June 10 against Curt Schilling.
Molina back in town
If it's Friday, Gabe Molina must be in Seattle.
The Orioles reliever completed an odyssey that took him from Oakland, Calif., to Pawtucket, R.I., and back to the West Coast yesterday when he met the club before last night's game.
Molina replaces Calvin Maduro, who flew back to Baltimore yesterday to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging of his right elbow. Maduro left Wednesday's game with pain behind the elbow. Similar pain landed him on the disabled list for five weeks before coming off the DL on Tuesday. Maduro may now be lost for an extended period.
Club officials were unaware of test results last night; Maduro did not leave Seattle until yesterday morning.
Maduro appeared Tuesday and Wednesday against the A's. In his first appearance, he surrendered a three-run homer to Ramon Hernandez, the first batter he faced since being activated. He walked a hitter then got the last out of the eighth inning.
On Wednesday, he allowed a run in the eighth inning of a 10-3 loss. Against the last hitter he faced, Miguel Tejada, Maduro said he felt renewed pain.
"The first game was good. I made too many pitches over the plate, but otherwise it felt fine," Maduro said. Of the second outing, he said, "My velocity was fine while I was out there, but when I sat down it really started hurting. It's not good."
Maduro convinced Orioles officials he was sound by striking out six in a two-inning rehab appearance June 17 with Single-A Frederick. After initially describing the condition as minor, Orioles officials allowed Maduro to make a deliberate return.
Since making the team as its No. 5 starter out of spring training, Maduro had made two starts before allowing runs in six of 13 relief appearances. The two outings in Oakland hiked his ERA to 9.64.
Molina's return marks his fourth stint with the club this season. He has made three relief appearances while going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 16 games at Rochester.
Molina left the team in Oakland on Tuesday, stayed with his family in Denver on Wednesday, then made the rest of the trip to Pawtucket on Thursday, arriving at about 2:30 p.m. He then made his way to the Red Sox's stadium where he was greeted by manager Marv Foley, who notified him of his return around 5:30 p.m.
"Marv's kind of a practical joker and I thought this might be one of his tricks," said Molina, who made a return flight from Providence to Seattle yesterday morning.
Molina admitted the season has been an interesting one. He has been optioned seven times the last two seasons and has earned enough frequent flier miles for a complimentary fare. However, he believes the frequent moves have been little hindrance to his pitching.
"I've been able to get my work in. I don't think I've missed anything that I would have gotten if I had been in one place all season," he said. "I'm just looking forward to getting an opportunity."
Hargrove said Molina will temporarily slide into Maduro's middle relief role.
Trombley feeling better
Reliever Mike Trombley made a return to the clubhouse - and to the dinner table - yesterday after struggling with strep throat the past five days. Trombley fell ill on the team's trip to Oakland and spent most of the next three days in his hotel room, ridden alternately by fever and chills.
He was prescribed antibiotics that did little good but reacted better to a new prescription given Thursday.
"It's a little better," said Trombley, looking thinner due to his unintentional diet. "It was pretty rough for a while. I didn't feel like doing anything at all."
Hargrove said it's unlikely Trombley will be available until tomorrow's series finale. Drained, Trombley will need at least two days to rebuild his strength. Meanwhile, the club is concerned about exposing any of Trombley's teammates to the condition.
Around the horn
For a second straight day, Mariners general manager Pat Gillick had an extended conversation with Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift. Apparently, there is little potential personnel match between the two clubs. Gillick downplayed any possible interest in catcher Charles Johnson as Dan Wilson remains under contract through 2002. ... Pending results of a team physical, the Orioles have agreed to terms with sandwich draft choice Tripper Johnson, a high school third baseman from the Seattle area. Terms were not announced.