BALTIMORE, JULY 13 -- Ron Washington and Bill Ripken played catch while the Orioles' grounds crew pulled the tarpaulin off the field the other evening. They are similar in one way. Both were called up from AAA Rochester last weekend as the Orioles crawled into the all-star break.

And that's about it. Bill Ripken is the media star of the day, the Orioles' future, son of the manager. Washington is in the twilight of a 16-year career.

He is a middle-aged (35) ballplayer called up in midseason to help a losing club. His bat is one reason he was summoned Thursday.

But this is not "The Natural, Part II." Washington is not Roy Hobbs; he's a utility man who will play some second, some third, as he did against Minnesota Friday night in his first start, and some outfield, as he did Saturday night in his second start before returning to third Sunday.

He's never even seen the movie.

"I'm just looking to do what {Manager} Cal Ripken wants me to do," Washington said. "I'll play wherever the need arises."

In his three games, Washington hit second in the lineup behind Alan Wiggins. Washington was five for 13, with two RBI, and the duo got on base 12 times, six in Friday night's 13-12 victory.

"We haven't had a leadoff hitter and a second hitter on six times in I don't know when," Manager Ripken said. "As long as they're doing the job, I'm going to try and keep them in there."

Washington hit .320 with 15 homers and 43 RBI in 70 games this season for Rochester. He was second in the International League in batting when he was called up.

Baltimore's manager was duly impressed. "He can hit most anywhere in the lineup . . . He's versatile on the field, and he's versatile with hitting," Ripken said.

"We haven't been swinging the bats so well, and we need somebody to spice up the offense a little. Having someone like Washington, who can play so many positions, is a "pleasant problem," Ripken said.

Washington is a part of baseball lore. He was one of the players who were part of the original, now famous, Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy in Sarasota, Fla., in 1971.

They had classroom work in addition to field work, Washington said, and they also had to take a few bounces on a trampoline. "It helped your hand-eye coordination," he said.

Washington is no stranger to the Twins. He spent seven seasons in the Minnesota organization, including four full seasons in the majors (1982-85).

He's no stranger to the Orioles, either. Last season, which he split between Minnesota and AAA Toledo, he hit his first-ever inside-the-park homer against Baltimore. Washington's career batting average in Memorial Stadium is .303.

He said he also had heard good things about Baltimore, and expressed a desire to play there. He got his wish after the Orioles signed him as a free agent this April.

"They're known to be a great organization. I had played well against them, and I hoped they remembered that," Washington said. "When they called me, I couldn't turn them down."