Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken said his inability to take strong swings is the only thing keeping him from returning to the lineup. But Ripken, who has been out since July 15 with a bruised left wrist, said he expects to be ready any day.

"Throwing and taking ground balls is fine," he said. "The hardest part is hitting. . . . That's the last thing to get over. It has improved a lot, and I anticipate it will be better [Tuesday]. The term `day-to-day' is pretty accurate. When I can pop the bat, I'm sure I'll be playing."

Manager Ray Miller said he hoped to have Ripken available tonight for emergency defensive purposes, and hopes to have Ripken back in the lineup Tuesday. "But I'll leave that up to him," Miller said. "He knows how he feels."

Ripken took batting practice today. He appeared to be driving the ball well, hitting several balls over the left field wall.

He will return to the lineup, he said, "as soon as I feel I can swing the bat and do the job at the plate. . . . If you can't swing the bat you can't play."

Making a Pitch for Pitchers

General Manager Frank Wren has made it clear the club is willing to trade many of its veteran players, and today he said he would be looking primarily to get pitching in return in any trade.

Even though the Orioles believe next year's prospective starting rotation of Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Matt Riley is solid, Wren said he would continue to try to stockpile talented pitchers.

"Any time you are talking about trading premium players, you're looking to get good, young arms," Wren said. "That's true of just about any team."

Staying on Farm

Second baseman Delino DeShields (strained right hamstring), who was expected to come off the disabled list early this week, will remain with Class A Frederick on a rehabilitation assignment until at least Wednesday. "He's still not able to take that explosive step," Miller said. "He doesn't have that acceleration."

Meantime, rookie Jerry Hairston, who has been filling in for DeShields, has cooled off, hitting 2 for 18 (.111) in his last five games. . . .

Mets outfielder Roger Cedeno, the National League's stolen base leader with 50 entering tonight, reached base twice Sunday night, but never attempted to steal against the Orioles' Charles Johnson, who has one of the best arms of any catcher in baseball.

"No way. I won't even try," Cedeno said of Johnson. "He's unbelievable." . . .

The Baltimore Fire Department was called to Oriole Park at Camden Yards at about 3:45 p.m. to extinguish a fire that broke out atop the large, ivy-covered wall just beyond the center field fence, which doubles as a perch for television cameras. The small fire, the cause of which was unknown, was put out quickly, and no one was injured.