Hobbled Segui still in step for opener


Able to take BP, he sees hamstring improving

first hit eludes Ripken

March 26, 2001|By Peter Schmuck and Roch Kubatko | Peter Schmuck and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - First baseman David Segui probably won't return to the Orioles' exhibition lineup for a few more days, but manager Mike Hargrove remains confident that he will be ready to start the regular season on time.

Segui has been hobbled by a sore hamstring, which has limited him to just 16 at-bats during the exhibition season. The inflammation has subsided enough to allow him to resume batting practice and some running drills. He could return to the lineup for a road game against the Florida Marlins tomorrow.

"He ran the bases today," Hargrove said, "but we're still a ways away. I'd say we're at the point of calling it day-to-day."

The big question is whether he can get enough at-bats in the final days of the exhibition season to be ready to face Boston ace Pedro Martinez on Opening Day. Segui says that won't be a problem.

"If I get three or four games in, I'll be fine," he said. "My swing feels fine. It doesn't take that many at-bats. You just don't want to jump in cold against Pedro."

There is no serious talk about Segui opening the season on the disabled list, though that could change if he feels the hamstring grab again in the next few days. He intends to be in the lineup, even if he isn't in midseason hitting form.

"I'll make Opening Day whether it hurts or not," he said. "I just don't want it to be lingering all season. With a hamstring, if you don't knock it out, it will hang around all year. That's definitely what you want to avoid."

The Orioles obviously want to protect their biggest investment of the off-season, but Hargrove also seems confident Segui can make a quick return.

"He took batting practice yesterday and swung very well," Hargrove said. "It doesn't take very long for a veteran hitter like David Segui to get his timing. I don't think it will take him that long to get it there."

Ripken goes 0-for-4

Cal Ripken climbed two notches in the lineup yesterday, batting fourth in his second game since returning from a fractured rib. He also stuck around longer, receiving four at-bats in the Orioles' 7-1 victory over the Montreal Expos.

Having swung only once in 10 pitches the previous day while playing four innings, he went 0-for-4 and didn't leave until the seventh.

Ripken jumped on the first pitch from Tony Armas and flied out to left field in the first inning. He fell behind 0-2 before bouncing out in the third inning, got ahead 2-0 before fouling out to catcher Michael Barrett leading off the fifth, and flied to shallow left on a 1-0 pitch in the seventh. Ripken looked much better in batting practice, when he hit a few balls over the left-field fence.

He played four innings on Saturday, walking twice, hitting into a force and scoring a run.

"I felt good in the box. My timing was a little off, but my swing was pretty good. I recognized the ball pretty good. I was happy with it," Ripken said.

After making one play in the field on Saturday, Ripken started a double play in the first inning and caught a pop-up in the third.

"We'll see how he is tomorrow and go from there," Hargrove said. "It's one of those things you play by ear. But he's well ahead as far as his moving."

What's in a number?

Saying he has no plans to speak again with Jose Mercedes about his reluctance to be the No. 3 starter, Hargrove downplayed the importance of which order his pitchers will be used.

Mercedes, who led the Orioles with 14 wins last season, said he'd rather be fourth in the rotation for superstitious reasons. He's had some bad luck as the third guy, including 1998 with the Milwaukee Brewers, when he needed rotator cuff surgery and didn't return to the majors until last season.

"He said he's done it three times, and every time something's been bad. I said, `Well, try it the fourth time,' " said Hargrove, who will move Jason Johnson ahead of Mercedes as No. 3.

"Honestly, it's like the lineup. Once you go through it once. ... If we have a day off or a rainout, we rework the rotation and he'll be back where he should be. We'll just continue to call him No. 4."

To accommodate Mercedes, Johnson will pitch on short rest today at the minor-league complex in Sarasota, Fla., before taking over the third spot.

"It's really no big deal," Hargrove said.

Optimistic O

The Orioles began yesterday with a 14-9 Grapefruit League record, tied for first with the Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals. The victories don't carry over to the regular season, but center fielder Melvin Mora still finds them important. He believes there's substance within the numbers, and cause for optimism with a team being picked to finish fourth or fifth in the AL East.

"You program winning into your mind. If you start losing in spring training, you're going to bring that into the season. That's what I like about what we're doing now. Winning, winning, winning. It can continue into the playoffs," he said.

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