Ripken gives ribs first spring rips

Doctors give him OK

on target for opener

March 13, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - At exactly 4:45 p.m. yesterday, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken stepped into the outdoor batting cage beside the clubhouse, bat in hand, and entered another phase of his spring training.

Taking his first cuts since reporting with a fractured rib, Ripken hit balls off a tee for about seven minutes before calling it quits. Contact was made with a nice, easy motion, as if practicing his golf swing. It was enough to challenge the injured area without the possibility of aggravating it.

His morning began with an orthopedic examination from Dr. George Caldwell as he was tested at various resistance angles. The best news?

"It didn't hurt," he said.

X-rays also were taken to compare with earlier ones to see how much the bone had healed. "I got the go-ahead to start doing some light stuff," he said.

That meant taking more ground balls from bench coach Sam Perlozzo, as he's done the past few days, along with the usual running and throwing before batting practice. He then ducked into the clubhouse, grabbed a black bat and headed out a side door to the cage, where a basket of baseballs awaited him.

"I just wanted to swing a little bit and see how it would feel tomorrow," he said. "I feel a lot more confident now that the doctor has examined me and given me the OK."

Ripken won't project when he'll face live pitching or appear in an exhibition game. It's a day-to-day process, with his body continuing to dictate his schedule.

"It's been four weeks. I was told the healing would take four to six weeks. From where I am at this level, it seems like the healing has really gone the way it's supposed to," he said.

"I'm not at risk to reach and do those things, but you still have to use common sense and good judgment, and make sure you don't do something too fast or too soon."

What's next for Ripken depends on how he feels this morning, before the Orioles play the Florida Marlins in Fort Lauderdale.

"I'll evaluate from day-to-day and then add a little bit more on as I can," he said. "I'm hopeful that it comes on pretty soon, but I'm also conscious of not doing anything dumb."

"That was the first step," manager Mike Hargrove said. "It was the step we were looking for. He's just got to be careful not to overdo it too early."

Assuming there are no setbacks, Ripken still expects to be in the Opening Day lineup on April 2, the start of his 21st season in the majors.

"I would say so, yes. I think we have almost three weeks at this point, so even on a light timetable I should be able to do things relatively quickly, and it gives me a good portion of games to get some at-bats. I'm pretty confident about that," he said.

Ripken was limited to 83 games last year, the fewest of any complete season in his career. He missed 59 while on the disabled list with inflammation in his lower back, aggravating the injury while running out a ground ball June 27 in Boston. He batted .307 in his last 20 games, homering in two of the final three.

Yesterday's session in the batting cage felt almost as good to Ripken as those late-September blasts. Little satisfaction has been derived from playing catch and watching others in the games. Mike Kinkade started at third base last night. Hitting off a tee moved Ripken a little closer to being there.

"My mood jumped a lot today, just knowing that I had the chance to have a little fun," he said.

As he walked away from a small group of reporters, polishing off the last bites of a nutrition bar, Ripken turned and added, "It was a good day."

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