Baltimore Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken played catch on the field today for the first time since injuring his back on Aug. 1, a small but significant step on his comeback from a second bout with nerve irritation in his back. However, Ripken said he doubts he will be able to come off the disabled list during this road trip.

"I'm going to try to do some physical things today and see where it goes from there," said Ripken, who turned 39 today. "Once I start doing baseball stuff, I assume I can pick it up fast, but I don't know that. There's an outside chance at best I can play on this trip."

Until today, Ripken's regimen has consisted of rest and periodic treatment on his back. "It's been a real test of patience," he said. "It seems like it has been forever. It's not fun."

Monday night, Ripken was in uniform and watched part of the game from the Orioles' bench. However, Orioles Manager Ray Miller got the impression from a conversation with Ripken on the bench that Ripken "doesn't feel [the back] is right yet."

Ripken previously has said he expects to return to the lineup within a week of beginning baseball activities. From here, the Orioles continue on to Detroit for three games beginning Friday, then, following an off-day Monday, come home for seven games starting Tuesday.

Stahl Signs

Eighteen-year-old left-handed pitcher Richard Stahl, who on Monday became the last of the Orioles' four first-round prospects to sign with the club, received a signing bonus of $1.795 million, according to baseball sources. That is slightly more than the Orioles paid to right-handed pitcher Mike Paradis ($1.7 million), who was chosen five spots earlier.

Resting Erickson

Because of Scott Erickson's 109-pitch effort in a 4-2 victory Monday night, Miller said it might be best not to start Erickson on three days' rest Friday night in Detroit. "He's been a little tender at times," Miller said. "I don't know if it's right to push him."

The Orioles need a pitcher to start Friday because Mike Mussina is likely to miss his scheduled start after being struck by a line drive on his right shoulder Sunday, suffering a contusion of his deltoid muscle. "I would hope I could pitch five days after [Friday]," Mussina said.