Clock against Ripken to resolve timing

Orioles notebook

Opportunity to break 1-for-14 slump narrows to 3 exhibition games

March 29, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

VIERA, Fla. -- Spring training no longer tests Cal Ripken's recuperative powers. Now it tries his patience.

Ripken continued his climb from five weeks of relative inactivity yesterday by enduring an 0-for-4 day against the Florida Marlins. Ripken reported no ill side effects from the fractured right rib suffered during a February workout, but is becoming exasperated over his lack of timing at the plate. Ripken struck out once, popped to second base and grounded out twice in yesterday's 5-3 loss to the Florida Marlins. The calendar offers little consolation as Opening Day looms four days away.

"I'm experimenting a little bit," Ripken said of a new stance that includes an elevated right elbow. "So far, nothing has felt too good."

Ripken says he is "happy overall" with his condition; however, a lack of timing has caused him to swing at pitches off the plate and fail to drive others in the hitting zone.

"The biggest concern is starting to leave me. I'm not thinking about the rib. I think at first I was thinking about pushing the ball the other way and not trying to turn on it," Ripken said. "The last couple days in batting practice I've been turning on it and trying to crank it."

Ripken has fought through difficult springs the past two years, but neither left him such abbreviated exposure to major-league pitching. Ripken did not swing a bat with full force until several days before joining the lineup and now finds himself thrown off by pitchers prepared for the season.

"The worst thing you can do is probably what I've ben trying to do -- forcing it," said Ripken, who plans to be in the lineup for the Orioles' final three exhibition games.

Ripken stands at 1-for-14 this spring. He says he has experienced no problem throwing or running. He, as the No. 6 hitter, and David Segui represent the only right-handed power presence among everyday players.

Trade chances slimmer?

Frustrated by an uncooperative market, vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift yesterday lowered expectations for completing a trade before Opening Day while insisting that the club will not release reserve catcher Greg Myers to create roster room.

"I don't see very much hope for a trade," said Thrift, who, two weeks ago, insisted there would be "probably one, possibly two" deals by the end of camp. "... I also think we'll have more players available in the next 72 hours because other teams are confronting some of the same things we're dealing with."

Noticeably lighter and quicker, the left-handed-hitting Myers has put together an impressive offensive camp, but his contract ($1.2 million plus a $200,000 buyout of a club option) and a reputation as a marginal defensive catcher have conspired against Thrift finding a taker.

The Arizona Diamondbacks have expressed passing interest but reportedly won't meet Thrift's asking price. Regardless, Myers won't be given away, according to Thrift.

"He's in the best condition he's probably been in in 10 years," Thrift said. "He's had a very productive spring. He has value to us right now. He's a better catcher than he's given credit for. ... He's not a defensive liability."

Unless Thrift soon finds an audience for his sales pitch, the Orioles are faced with the possibility of carrying four catchers: Myers, Brook Fordyce, Fernando Lunar and utility player Mike Kinkade.

Jay Gibbons -- a Rule 5 draftee who either must make the club or be offered back to the Toronto Blue Jays -- and infielder Jeff Conine would comprise the rest of a five-man bench.

The Orioles are faced with adding Willis Roberts and Calvin Maduro to their 40-man roster this weekend should both stick. The fact that infielder Brian Roberts is not on the 40-man roster is a consideration in his likely option to Double-A Bowie. Thrift yesterday projected starting center fielder Melvin Mora as the backup middle infielder.

Paring down

Manager Mike Hargrove suggested today may bring a roster trim. The Orioles are carrying 34 players, nine more than next Monday's roster.

Today's cuts are expected to involve young pitching, including hard-throwing camp sensation Jorge Julio and nonroster swingman Chad Paronto. Julio is projected as closer at Double-A Bowie. The Orioles must decide whether Paronto is better served pitching in Rochester's rotation or in relief, his projected major-league role.

Mr. Undecided

The Orioles continue to classify next Thursday's starter against the Boston Red Sox as "undecided." In what is camp's worst-kept secret, the pitcher's identity is Jason Johnson.

Hargrove would prefer to wait until Johnson's final exhibition start Friday against the New York Mets before making the announcement. His reluctance has little to do with Johnson's performance, but rather the pitcher's reputation for losing focus, earned during a 1-10 season in 2000.

The Orioles' starters in the first two games against Boston will be Pat Hentgen and Sidney Ponson. The Red Sox project Pedro Martinez, Hideo Nomo and Frank Castillo.

Opening Day festivities

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