SEATTLE -- When Cal Ripken arrived at the visitors clubhouse yesterday, his manager was waiting for him.
Before Ripken glanced at the lineup card, Ray Miller wanted to notify the third baseman that he was batting seventh and the reasons for it.
"I didn't feel like I needed his permission. But when he came through the door today, I told him, 'Cal, you're hitting seventh. I just wanted to give you a heads up because the writers will look at the lineup and probably come ask you about it,' " said Miller. "It's out of respect to him."
Ripken, who took a .257 average into last night's game, had batted this low in the order only twice since his 1982 rookie season. Davey Johnson penciled him there on May 14 and 17, 1996, igniting a swirl of controversy. Yesterday Ripken had little reaction.
"It's the manager's prerogative," he said. "I've hit just about everywhere in the order. It doesn't matter."
Ripken had batted third once, fifth 15 times and sixth 33 times before yesterday. He frequently has hit behind slower players, preventing Miller from putting the game in motion to open holes.
"It's a big nonfactor, really," said Ripken. "When you're hitting really well, you'd like to hit as many times as you can."
Said Miller: "These two guys [Mariners starters Bill Swift and Jeff Fassero] throw a lot of strikes. The last three weeks it seems every time Cal's up, he's got Harold Baines at second or somebody else at first who doesn't have that much speed. Now he's got guys in front of him [Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff] you can get started."
Ripken produced a hit-and-run single Sunday in Oakland and is among the team's most adept hitters at placing the ball.
Ripken began last night with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 183 at-bats. His .344 slugging percentage led only Brady Anderson (.306), Chris Hoiles (.317) and Jeff Reboulet (.190).
Since his average crested at .302 on April 28, Ripken had batted .207 (18-for-87).
All four of his RBIs this month came May 9 in Tampa Bay against knuckleballer Dennis Springer. The outburst included a three-run homer, his only blast since April 26.
While Miller downplayed the lineup shuffle, many in the organization are concerned about Ripken's decreased bat speed. Pitchers now consistently attack him inside. Meanwhile, Ripken gropes for power to the alleys.
Miller emphatically denied a report in yesterday's New York Times that the club is considering benching Ripken, who has played 2,528 consecutive games. The matter has not been broached, said Miller, and any decision to rest Ripken lies with the player.
Asked what would change his mind, Miller answered, "Him to walk in here and say he's hurt. Or if he just obviously totally stopped hitting or totally stopped doing anything. Common sense takes over."
Ripken called the report "speculation" and offered little comment except to say, "Speculation just leads to more speculation."
Ripken has put himself through a rigorous series of exercises to rehabilitate a herniated disk condition that threatened to end the streak last summer. The third baseman often leaves the clubhouse following games to perform the regimen in a dimly lit stadium.
"Cal works hard, probably too hard," said Miller. "But he'll never cheat you."
Now 37, Ripken has exhibited little speed this season. He has been timed at 4.7 seconds to first base. The major-league average is 4.3 seconds. "I think it's unfair that people put a clock on him. Obviously he's an older guy without a lot of speed, but he's a pretty good ballplayer," Miller said.
Late O's game
Last night's Orioles-Mariners game in Seattle did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http: //www.sunspot.net. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at 410-783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call 410-268-7736, ext. 5023).
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Kingdome, Seattle
Time: 6: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Scott Erickson (4-5, 5.10) vs. Mariners' Jeff Fassero (5-1, 2.73)
Pub Date: 5/26/98