Ripken looks to play in game this week

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Third baseman hits for second straight day

Baseball

March 22, 2001|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken yesterday took on-field hitting for a second consecutive day, then declared himself "optimistic" about playing his first exhibition game no later than Saturday and possibly as early as tomorrow.

"Physically, I feel pretty good," Ripken said after several rounds of batting practice on a back field that included his first "home run" of camp.

"I'm moving around better and feel pretty good about swinging the bat. I don't know if I'll have all the questions answered by Opening Day, but I hope to know the answers to most all of them," he said.

Ripken will meet this morning with manager Mike Hargrove to discuss a timetable for the remainder of camp. Five weeks since suffering a cracked rib on his right side, Ripken said Tuesday he hopes to play significant portions of every game once he declares himself ready.

Another option would have Ripken travel to the Orioles' minor-league complex in Sarasota to participate in an intrasquad game. Such a game would allow him to bat every half-inning, giving him as many plate appearances in one day as he might otherwise get in four games.

"You've got to figure out how many at-bats you need," said Ripken, who had 63 at-bats last spring. "What it boils down to is a weeklong or eight-game rehab assignment. It's very similar."

Ripken said he felt looser yesterday than in Tuesday's first round. Yesterday, he pulled numerous pitches, whereas on Tuesday he forced himself to slap pitches to center or right-center field.

Ripken, enduring his third consecutive abbreviated spring, has adopted a conservative approach toward fielding. He has taken ground balls but hasn't yet tested his right side by cross-firing to first base. He also doesn't plan to tax his right side by diving before the regular season.

Earlier this week, Ripken expressed optimism about playing on Opening Day but felt uncomfortable offering any guarantees.

Mills on the mend

Reliever Alan Mills made his first spring appearance, allowing a run in the seventh inning on two singles and a stolen base.

Former Oriole Mark Smith singled on the first pitch thrown by Mills. Pinch runner Terry Jones stole second and later scored on a high chopper by Milton Bradley that dropped into shallow left field.

"I felt really good," said Mills, who's recovering from September surgery to clean out his right shoulder. "I was nervous at first, but after I went out there, it felt like home. I threw a few pitches that had more giddy-up than I've had. I'm not disappointed with the way things turned out."

The Orioles remain skeptical that Mills will be ready by Opening Day. "I'm not going to rush it," he said. "I'm not trying to foresee the next day. I'll take it as it comes."

Maduro makes impression

It took two days into camp before Calvin Maduro found a job with the Orioles, putting him at an apparent disadvantage with other pitchers trying to make room on a 12-man staff. It's taken a much shorter amount of time for him to make an impression.

Maduro remains in the mix for a bullpen job with fewer than two weeks left before the Orioles head north. He hasn't allowed a run in eight innings, and issued only one walk against six strikeouts. Yesterday, he got out of a two-on, two-out jam by inducing a pop-up.

He's already met one goal: proving that his right elbow is sound after going on the disabled list for a second time June 22 with a sprained ligament that ended his season. Maduro also hushed rumors that he had surgery, which he feared would make it harder to catch on with another club after being removed from the Orioles' 40-man roster and losing his visa spot.

"The main thing was showing them that my arm was healed and I don't have any problems," he said. "Maybe there was concern whether my elbow was going to come back or not, but so far everything's been good."

Maduro broke camp last year as the fourth starter after going 1-1 with a 3.71 ERA in six appearances. He's no longer viewed as a candidate for the rotation. Maduro's most effective the first time through a batting order, which makes him better suited for shorter outings.

"I feel much better than I was feeling last spring," he said. "I'm going out there and throwing strikes. I like the way I'm throwing the ball. I have much better control of my fastball."

Julio trade one-sided

It's too early to choose the winner in trades made over the winter, but the Orioles have no complaints over their deal that sent third baseman Ryan Minor to Montreal for pitcher Jorge Julio. So far, it's been terribly one-sided.

Julio has a chance to make the club this spring despite turning 22 earlier this month and going 2-10 at Single-A Jupiter last season. Converted to late-inning relief, Julio and his blazing fastball have been one of the camp's most intriguing stories. He's allowed only two runs in eight innings, and opponents are batting .192 against him.

Minor, meanwhile, is 2-for-23 with 11 strikeouts, including another one yesterday after replacing Fernando Tatis.

Around the horn

THE NUMBER: 2.05 -- Jason Johnson's ERA in five starts covering 22 innings this spring.

INJURY UPDATE: First baseman David Segui anticipates that he'll need another four or five days before returning to the lineup. Hargrove said he still expects Segui to be ready for Opening Day, but the veteran missed his eighth straight game because of a strained right hamstring that requires daily treatment. ... Jay Gibbons returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a strained right hamstring. He singled, stole second and advanced a base on a bad throw in the fourth inning.

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