At least 1 Ripken is doing fine at 3rd Bill takes to position with his glove, even bat

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Bill Ripken said he hasn't talked to brother Cal about playing third base.

But Bill -- who has spent the majority of his career at second base -- has done a fine job of adapting to a relatively new position this season.

He has played the last five games at third, filling in for the injured B. J. Surhoff.

"The more you're over there, the more comfortable you feel," Bill said. "When you slide over [to third] and play a position that's a little bit different from what you're used to, your awareness and concentration goes up."

Ripken has thus far played the position flawlessly. He hasn't committed any errors, contributed five ground ball assists yesterday and on Friday initiated a terrific 5-4-3 double play on Terry Steinbach's hard-hit grounder.

Not bad for a guy who spent six seasons with the Orioles as a second baseman, played shortstop last season for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, and entered the season with 22 major-league games at third base on his resume.

Of Bill's 22 games at third, 18 of them came in 1994 with the Texas Rangers. But Bill said they came sporadically. He's probably never played five straight games at third.

He has now.

The past two games, Ripken has even started to hit like a third baseman.

He doubled down the left-field line, singled to short and scored two runs in yesterday's 6-1 victory over Oakland. It was his first multi-hit game since Sept. 20, 1995, during a brief September call-up with the Cleveland Indians.

Ripken also doubled to left during Saturday's game and has raised his average above the Mendoza line to .222 (8-for-36).

"He had a great spring," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said. "You want to get the bench involved. I've had conversations about it with them. I said, 'I need to get you guys involved' so they will feel a part of the club.

"That's one thing we've got to do. It's a long year. You win with 25 guys, even in the American League. I know that sounds strange, but you still need 25 to win."

Ripken, who came to spring training as a nonroster invitee, made the Orioles' 25-man roster because he hit .368 with a team-leading nine doubles and because he showed he could play second, shortstop and could learn to play third base.

It was his glove, not his bat, that the Orioles needed most, especially at third base. Surhoff hadn't played the position in more than a year. Bonilla's glove was suspect. The only other possible third basemen were utility men Jeff Huson and Manny Alexander.

Now that Huson (knee surgery), Surhoff (twisted ankle) and Bonilla (sore ankle) are hurt, Ripken's defensive contributions at third have been vital.

He said he has made it look easier than it really is.

"Everything's not second nature," Ripken said. "When I go back to second, it'll come back to me in a heartbeat. But when you go over to third base, you've got to think about things."

Ripken said the differences are the angle the ball comes off the bat and deciding when a player is a threat to bunt. But he said it's getting easier.

"I feel good over there," he said. "When the ball's hit hard, it's gets by you quickly over there."

Ripken said he would rather play third base than sit on the bench, but he's also realistic.

"You've got to look at the overall picture," he said. "When you've got Robbie, Cal and B. J., what are you going to do?"

Bill declined to comment about his older brother's possible move to third base.

But if it happens, Cal could learn a thing or two about playing the position from younger brother Bill.

Pub Date: 5/27/96

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