Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken said today that while his injured back is improving, he still has not done any baseball-related activities and does not have a timetable for his return to the lineup.

"It's just a matter of showing a little patience," said Ripken on the day he had originally targeted for his return. "It continues to improve, but . . . the big concern is if I start back too soon it will drop me back to square one."

Ripken was placed on the 15-day disabled list for the second time this season Aug. 1 with nerve irritation in his lower back. Last week, Ripken said he was hopeful to be able to play tonight, which is the first day he was eligible to come off the disabled list.

"I was very hopeful and optimistic that I'd be able to play today," he said. "So I'm a little disappointed about [not being able to]. . . . It continues to improve, just not fast enough to my liking. There's still a trace of the nerve irritation. When that disappears, I can start doing some things."

Ripken could not say when he might be able to start swinging and take ground balls, but once he does he would need only a day or two to be ready to play again. He doubts he will need a minor league rehabilitation assignment, as he did when he came back from his first stint on the disabled list in May. "I think I can jump right back in," he said. "From my last experience, once I started baseball activities it came back real quickly. The rehab was a precautionary thing because I hadn't played in a while."

Ripken said surgery might be an option after the season, but not now. "Sure, after a certain period of time -- I don't know how long -- if it's not fixed, you have to look at other options. But I'm not too concerned about that. There's no indication that has to be considered."

Linton to Make Start for Orioles

As expected, the Orioles announced Doug Linton will assume the fifth starter role beginning Saturday. Linton made two starts for the Orioles in April, going 0-1 with a 5.56 earned run average before being sent down to Class AAA Rochester. Since the start of July, Linton is 6-1 with a 2.14 ERA while striking out 59 and walking only seven in 63 innings at Rochester. . . .

First baseman Will Clark received a cortisone shot for his hyperextended left elbow and was out of the lineup tonight for the third straight game. Clark was expected to be available for pinch-hit duty.