Third baseman Cal Ripken, whose personal renaissance and quest for a two-front milestone has been a bright spot in an otherwise dreary season for the Baltimore Orioles, left the team today and returned to Baltimore to have his stiff back examined.
Ripken, who is one shy of 400 career home runs and 32 hits short of 3,000, almost certainly will miss all three games of the team's series against the Oakland Athletics that began tonight, and the Orioles are discussing possible moves in case Ripken has to go on the disabled list for the second time this season. Ripken will see team orthopedist Michael Jacobs on Tuesday morning.
Orioles Manager Ray Miller said that Ripken, who sat out Sunday's game in Seattle with back stiffness, called him this morning at the team hotel.
"On his way to the bus [Sunday] he was feeling pretty good, but when he got up this morning he was feeling it again," Miller said. "So he got on a plane to go see Dr. Jacobs, because when you start feeling an electric sensation in your back, that's when things can go bad. He wanted to check it out right away and hopefully stave it off."
Ripken, who turns 39 this month, is coming off one of the best months of his career, having hit .413 during July. Ripken was forced to go on the disabled list from April 18 to May 13, which apparently has caused him to take this experience with back stiffness more seriously.
"He said, `Last time [the back] got like this, I waited too long to get it checked out,' " Miller said. "He said, `This time I want to get it checked out.' The back is such a sensitive thing."
Ripken apparently selected to fly to Baltimore to see Jacobs, instead of flying to Cleveland to see Henry Bohlman, who treated Ripken with a cortisone shot in April. However, Miller said, "Knowing Cal, he'll see them both."
As a short-term solution to Ripken's absence, Miller moved left fielder B.J. Surhoff to third base, and inserted first baseman-outfielder Jeff Conine in left. Surhoff was the Orioles' everyday third baseman in 1996, when Ripken still played shortstop, but has developed into one of the best left fielders in the American League. Surhoff last played third base in 1997, when he participated in three games.
If Ripken has to go on the disabled list again, Miller said the likeliest move would be to call up Ryan Minor from Class AAA Rochester. Minor played in four games for the Orioles in July when Ripken suffered a bruised wrist, but struggled at the plate, going 1 for 10 with four strikeouts.
"I don't think it's fair to judge Ryan on the [four] days we saw him," Miller said. "He took some things [batting coach Terry Crowley] gave him, worked on them, and he's been hot the last two weeks."
Ripken is hitting .352 with 15 homers and 43 RBI in 61 games since coming off the disabled list May 13, and is coming off one of the best months of his career, having hit .413 during July.
As recently as Saturday in Seattle, Miller remarked that Ripken appeared to be one of the "freshest" players on the team. But with no warning, his back stiffened up Sunday, and Miller had to scratch him from the lineup.