Ripken encouraged, finds comfort zone at plate on road trip

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

2 homers, more patience give `something to build on'

Ponson Bowie-bound

April 30, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - A road trip unlike any other in Cal Ripken's 21-year career concluded yesterday with the Orioles third baseman declaring himself "encouraged" by progress that gave him a five-game hitting streak, raised his average from .140 to .176, brought him his first two home runs and restored patience to his approach.

"I feel better at the plate," Ripken said after suffering an 0-for-4 end to his hitting streak in yesterday's 4-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins. "It's something to build on. I feel good. I feel encouraged."

Ripken, who yesterday made his third straight start, this time as designated hitter, learned from Mike Hargrove on April 21 - two days into the nine-game trip - that he was to become a de facto part-time player who shared his position with rookie Mike Kinkade. The day after Hargrove publicly confirmed the arrangement, Ripken homered in Detroit. Two days later, he homered in the series opener vs. the Twins while managing his first multi-hit game of the season.

Ripken was 6-for-25 (.240) with seven RBIs for the trip. His 10 RBIs this season trails Delino DeShields by one for the team lead.

"I'd like to feel hot where you could officially declare yourself hot," Ripken said. "Physically, I feel tremendous. I have a feeling of comfort ... when you start to get into a groove and eventually you get hot. That's what I'm looking for. They're all good signs."

Ripken continued to tinker with his stance during the three-city trip, settling yesterday on a crouched position with his hands flexing just above belt level.

More importantly, Ripken says he has quieted the tendency to lunge after pitches that turned him into an opposite-field hitter during the season's first 18 games.

"Hitting is all about timing," he said. "When your timing's off, you charge out there. It's always been my worst enemy - trying to hit so bad you try to go get the ball instead of letting it come to you.

"When you do that you cut yourself off and the only place you can hit the ball is to right field. When you let the ball come to you, you're in a much better position."

McElroy or Towers?

Hargrove said he and pitching coach Mark Wiley should know today who will start Thursday's opener of a four-game series against the New York Yankees.

Once ticketed for a return to the bullpen, Chuck McElroy made a case for himself with 5 2/3 solid innings during Saturday night's 5-2 win over the Twins.

Pending a decision, Hargrove stiff-armed all questions about bringing the left-hander back for another look. He did say rookie Josh Towers also will receive consideration to make his major-league debut against the three-time world champions.

Such a move would not be unprecedented under Hargrove. Last July 24, he gave 22-year-old left-hander John Parrish his first major-league appearance against the Yankees and was rewarded with seven innings of four-hit ball.

Ponson to start at Bowie

Sidney Ponson will make a rehab start Friday for Double-A Bowie against Akron at Prince George's County Stadium. Ponson, on the disabled list since April 17 with elbow tendinitis, may then rejoin the Orioles on the next road trip to Tampa Bay and New York.

Ponson threw from a mound twice during this weekend's series and reported no discomfort.

Conine, Anderson hurting

The aftermath of Saturday's win was painful for the Orioles. Jeff Conine suffered a bruise to the heel of his left hand on Brian Buchanan 's ninth-inning shot and was unavailable to start yesterday against Twins left-hander J. C. Romero.

Brady Anderson was in the lineup after receiving treatment for back spasms yesterday morning.

Around the horn

DeShields hit safely in every game during the trip, finishing 15-for-35 with seven extra-base hits, eight RBIs and seven walks. He raised his average from .106 to .232. ... Twins closer LaTroy Hawkins earned his eighth save while extending his major-league record of 22 consecutive save conversions to start a career. ... The series win was the Twins' first over the Orioles since July 22-24, 1996. The Orioles were 20-6 in the Metrodome the previous five seasons. Their two losses here were as many as they'd suffered in the Metrodome the last two years combined. ... Who says the Orioles are a drag on attendance? The three-game series drew 77,859 with each game attended by more than 20,000, giving the Twins five crowds of 20,000-plus this season.

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