Back pain eases for Ripken, so he asks for, gets start at 3rd

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Day off does the trick, greatly relieving mind

Erickson shows progress

Notebook

September 08, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - Testifying to the healing powers of a day off with his family, Cal Ripken sought out manager Mike Hargrove yesterday afternoon with a simple request: to play third base for the first time in more than a week.

Ripken told Hargrove the lower-back stiffness that had caused him to speak ominously Wednesday of a possible extended stint as designated hitter no longer gripped him.

"I'd like to play in the field and I felt better after a day off," Ripken said after sitting for his press conference, which is held every first day of a road series. "I'll give it a try."

After Wednesday's 12-6 loss to the Oakland A's, Ripken conceded his surgically repaired lower back was experiencing sensations he last felt before going on the disabled list 15 months ago.

Concerned about being limited physically or even unable to play in the last three weeks of his career, Ripken then suggested he might be better served working as designated hitter for an extended time.

"It's a scary thing for me," Ripken admitted on Wednesday. "I've felt this feeling before and if you're not careful with it and you continue to push it and irritate it, it turns into something where it could possibly blow. That's what ended up happening in Boston, but it was after a longer time pushing it.

Ripken's previous five starts before last night were as designated hitter. He also missed the opening game of the A's series because of stiffness aggravated by a cross-country plane flight.

"Maybe I was more scared than anything," he said.

Ripken spent Thursday's off day with his family and appeared to move much easier before last night's game, in which he went 0-for-4 at the plate, His return to third base also suggested improvement in his sore right shoulder.

As his retirement nears, his schedule becomes more congested. He strongly hinted yesterday that he will participate in ceremonies before the NASCAR race in Dover, Del., on Sept. 23.

That is also the day he will play in his final game at Camden Yards. The starting time for the game was moved to 7:05 p.m., allowing Ripken to helicopter back to Baltimore after serving as race starter.

A nationally distributed Coca-Cola commercial starring Ripken and his daughter, Rachel, is expected to begin running next week, though details are few, at the soft drink maker's request. "It's secret," Ripken said, declining to reveal the plug's storyline.

Erickson dials it up

Scott Erickson fueled optimism for his return next season from ligament transplant surgery when he threw 75 pitches in a simulated game.

Erickson, who hasn't pitched since last August, worked three "innings" of a session in which he faced hitters, went to the dugout for a rest, then returned for another 25-pitch session. He mixed sliders among his pitches for the first time and reported no discomfort.

"I'm still a long way off, but I threw sliders for the first time, which is encouraging," said Erickson, who impressed onlookers with his velocity, but not himself with his command.

"His control was a little bit off, but I thought he threw well," said Hargrove.

"I've felt good all along," added Erickson, who has set a goal for himself to earn next Opening Day's start. "There have been no setbacks. No stiffness or soreness. I've worked hard every day. It's nothing new."

The Orioles have intentionally refrained from tracking Erickson's velocity. They fear the presence of a radar gun might cause the hyper-competitive Erickson to push himself too far too quickly.

Hargrove suggested yesterday that Erickson will be first clocked when he faces live hitting in a game situation, something likely to occur when the innings monster reports to instructional league later this month.

Around the horn

David Segui briefly returned to the lineup for the first time since Aug. 23, batting third within a lineup that struggled for 21 runs in its past 12 games. In his first at-bat in more than two weeks, Segui flied out to the center-field warning track. His 4 1/2 -inning return allowed right fielder Chris Richard to drop to the more comfortable No. 7 spot. "It's amazing how much differently things look when you drop one veteran hitter in the middle of a lineup," Hargrove said. ... Geronimo Gil was added to the Orioles' 40-man roster yesterday when he reported to Seattle. Described as a "catch-and-throw" talent, Gil becomes the Orioles' third catcher five weeks after they acquired him from the Los Angeles Dodgers with Kris Foster in exchange for veteran reliever Mike Trombley. To make room for Gil, outfielder Jay Gibbons was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

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