Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken said today his rehabilitation from his back injury is on schedule and that he is hoping to return from the disabled list the first day he is eligible, Aug. 17.

"The improvements are small," Ripken said. "It's not like you wake up one day and [the pain] is gone. It's gradual. In the time since I first got hurt -- it's been a little over a week now -- it's gotten much better. But since yesterday, it's only incrementally better."

Ripken was placed on the disabled list with nerve irritation in his back on Aug. 3, retroactive to Aug. 1 -- which is the day Ripken was scratched from the lineup in Seattle. It is the second time this season Ripken has been on the disabled list, after playing in a record 2,632 consecutive games from 1982 to 1998.

Although Ripken was told to engage only in limited activity for the first 10 days, he said today he was ready to begin "back stabilization" exercises. Manager Ray Miller said Ripken might begin swinging a bat in "the next day or so."

Unlike his first stay on the disabled list, Ripken said this time he likely will not require a minor league rehabilitation assignment. "Over two weeks, you don't lose your edge," Ripken said. "Obviously, you might not be as sharp as you were before, but you don't lose a lot."

Many Dollars, Few Errors

The Orioles' option for 2000 on Mike Bordick's contract has vested, meaning the 34-year-old shortstop will make $3 million from the team next season. Bordick's contract has a clause that stipulated the option would vest if Bordick reached 1,000 plate appearances between 1998 and 1999.

Bordick entered tonight's game batting .269 with eight homers and 46 RBI, and was leading American League shortstops in fielding percentage (.989) and total chances (533). His error Sunday was his first since June 17, a span of 46 games. . . .

With Jason Johnson on the mound tonight, Miller started backup catcher Mike Figga in place of Charles Johnson. Figga caught Jason Johnson's last start, a win on Aug. 4, and is a Tampa area native. First baseman Will Clark also got a day off, as Miller plans to rest several veterans during the course of this three-game series on artificial turf.