Six weeks after receiving a cortisone injection to quiet an inflamed nerve in his lower back, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken says he continues to experience significant discomfort in the back and left leg and may soon consider a "Plan B."
"I have freedom of movement even though I have a little instability and a lot of pain down my left leg," Ripken said before starting at third base in yesterday's 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
Shooting pain in the region caused Ripken to visit Cleveland orthopedic surgeon Dr. Henry Bohlman on May 15, three days after Ripken was scratched from a start against Boston with pain he likened to his pre- surgery sensation. Bohlman diagnosed the source of Ripken's pain as scar tissue or leftover matter from Ripken's back surgery last Sept. 23. An injection was administered to calm the nerve, but Ripken was told six weeks were typically required for inflammation to subside.
The plan has not gone as hoped, said Ripken, who endured an 0-for-4 game yesterday to extend a 2-for-24 road trip. Two weeks ago he described leftover pain as "a pebble in the shoe" and yesterday said he still feels a burning sensation down his left leg.
"From time to time, it's gone up and down," Ripken said of the pain. "Recently, in Oakland it jumped up there. I was very uncomfortable. The bigger issue is how to manage it and how to get rid of it."
Bohlman's diagnosis that a minuscule fragment irritated the nerve dovetailed with a projection that six weeks would allow the burning sensation to cool. But Ripken still speaks of a fire in his leg.
"It has been six weeks. The smart thing would be to look at the issue again, to see if that's really what it is," Ripken said.
After Saturday afternoon's game, Ripken appeared at the clubhouse door with a wrap around his waist and his entire left leg wrapped in ice. There are times, Ripken acknowledged, when he hurries from the field to the trainer's room after a game "to put out the fire."
"Most of the time, by the ninth inning I'm ready to get an ice pack on and put the fire out," he said, "or try to put the fire out."
The pain spiked during the Orioles' three-game series in Oakland last week, causing manager Mike Hargrove to pull Ripken in the seventh inning Wednesday, use him as designated hitter on Thursday then give him Friday off. Hargrove insisted yesterday that Ripken has never asked to be replaced.
The telltale signs became obvious Thursday against the Mariners when he grounded sharply up the middle only to see second baseman David Bell glove the ball, turn, throw and beat him by four steps from shallow center field.
Ripken takes anti-inflammatory medication, but there is little treatment he can receive from the medical staff to improve his condition. Ice and rest are his best available options.
"All the testing has pretty much been done and the understanding of what's there and how it relates to surgery ... is pretty much known. The nerve's being irritated at a certain level," Ripken said. "It's a matter of how to stop the irritation. I haven't discussed any of these things, but there's a possibility of a second shot, the possibility of different medicine. I'm not sure. It might be time to look at it from a different angle. We know what it is."
Ripken said he hasn't considered possibly skipping next month's All-Star Game should the discomfort persist. Ripken is a lock to be voted onto the team and has always looked forward to participating in an event he considers "a celebration of baseball." He also described attending as "an obligation and a responsibility if you're chosen."
"The timetable now is two weeks," Ripken said. "I'd like to have some answers before then. I'd like to see some improvement before then. It's all a matter of determining what's best and what course of action to take."
Since being examined six weeks ago by Bohlman, Ripken has cut his pre-game routine, condensing hitting and flexibility work to within 45 minutes of the game.
Ripken, who turns 40 in August, says that once he begins physical activity, his body allows him a relatively small time without increased stiffness and pain. "I don't become locked up like before," Ripken said. "It's mostly an issue of what [pain] I can tolerate."