Team optimistic Ripken will be in swing for opener

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Recovery goes slower than expected

`He's closer,' says Hargrove

Baseball

March 17, 2001|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken spent another morning hitting off a tee in the outdoor batting cage, a routine that began Monday. He also participated in live drills for the first time, stretching his baseball-related activities beyond throwing, running and taking grounders from coach Sam Perlozzo. It remains unclear, however, when he'll face live pitching for the first time after backing off this week.

Manager Mike Hargrove still considers Ripken a near certainty to be in the Opening Day lineup, saying he was 99 percent sure "we'll be OK" and that the club hasn't reached the point of making contingency plans at third base because of Ripken's fractured rib. But as the future Hall of Famer continues to let his body dictate his schedule, his swings remain confined to the cage and his pace less accelerated than once hoped.

"He's closer. He hasn't had any setbacks yet. So far, so good," Hargrove said.

"We're not going to push him. We'd like to have him by the end of spring training have anywhere from 20 to 30 at-bats if we can, and I think that'll be possible as of today."

Ripken participated in bunt drills yesterday, which required more movement and arm extension than the grounders he's been fielding. But full optimism concerning his return remains on hold until he's able to bat. He had been expected to begin taking live batting practice Thursday and yesterday but hasn't yet.

Asked if he expected Ripken to be playing in a game by this time next week, Hargrove said, "I would hope so."

"He said everything's fine, but we're taking it a little slower than probably what [Ripken would like]. ... Cal was a little optimistic about the schedule and we've had to back him off a little bit, but not due to any discomfort. We just backed him off so we would be sure the thing is taken care of," Hargrove said.

Slow progress for Mills

Reliever Alan Mills threw a simulated game yesterday in his most significant activity since reporting to spring training. It did nothing, however, to eliminate his fading hopes of being ready by Opening Day.

Or his growing disappointment.

"Right now, I'm getting to the point where I feel like I'm behind," said Mills, who's recovering from September arthroscopic surgery to clean out his right shoulder. "What's today, the 16th? I haven't thrown in a game yet. I'm trying to stay positive, but I'm behind. I don't want to feel like that."

The Orioles were prepared to move slowly with Mills when pitchers reported on Feb. 14, and find it unnecessary to push him as the days pass. If he's unavailable on Opening Day, they can plug the hole with one of their prospects in camp.

"I'm just going to take it as it comes," Mills said. "Hopefully, things will go well and I can keep progressing."

Asked if the chances of Mills being available on April 2 have slipped below 50 percent, Hargrove said, "I don't know that he'll be ready for the start of the season, let's put it that way. He still could be, but I think it's better to be safe than sorry."

Mills has been limited to throwing batting practice on alternating days, while mixing in a side session "here and there," he said.

"There haven't been any setbacks, but my velocity hasn't increased at the rate I wanted it to. And there's nothing you can do to rush it. It comes on its own."

Mills threw the equivalent of three innings yesterday, returning to the clubhouse soaked in sweat and satisfied with how his shoulder responded. "He made some nice pitches and made some bad pitches," Hargrove said. "Overall, it was a good outing. He threw more good pitches than bad."

Sisco getting treatment

As the Orioles dressed in the clubhouse before heading to the field for stretching and throwing, infielder Steve Sisco laid on one of the tables in the trainer's room. He'd receive more medical attention within the next hour to 90 minutes. He's staying on a schedule he hopes will speed his recovery from a pulled oblique muscle.

Sisco has been dealing with the problem for about a week. It intensified during batting practice on Thursday, when Sisco had to walk off the field at the Minnesota Twins' complex in Fort Myers, Fla.

"I felt good, but then during the second round [of BP], it got a lot worse. There was one particular swing when it started burning," he said.

Sisco is subjected to ice and electric stimulation treatments throughout the day. He's been shut down indefinitely, hurting his chances of making the club as a backup middle infielder.

"Everything in this sport is twisting. Throwing and hitting are two of the biggest things I need to do," he said. "I don't know what the timetable is for me. I'll just keep getting treatments and see how it feels. It's a thin muscle and there's not a whole lot of blood supply, so it might take longer."

The Orioles could scour the waiver wire for a spare middle infielder or take a chance with 23-year-old Brian Roberts, a sandwich pick in 1999 whose development might be stunted by not playing every day in the minors. Roberts has been used more at second base than his natural shortstop position. That could leave Sisco at Triple-A Rochester when the Orioles head north.

The injury "is a little frustrating, but it's just something I've got to deal with," he said.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 4 -- Consecutive games missed by first baeman David Segui after reinjuring his right hamstring. He left after three innings of Monday night's game against the Florida Marlins.

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