Third baseman Cal Ripken underwent a magnetic resonance imaging yesterday and will miss at least the remainder of this weekend's series against the Boston Red Sox due to nerve irritation in the same region that forced him to undergo lower back surgery last September.
"I don't think any of us anticipated this happening, but I don't think any of us are real surprised it's come to this point right now," manager Mike Hargrove said.
Ripken is all but certain not to play today or tomorrow, and his status will be reassessed on Monday's day off. While the club downplayed the possibility of him going on the disabled list for the third time in two years because of the nerve, the chances may be enhanced by an upcoming six-game road trip to Anaheim and Texas.
"The whole process is discouraging," Ripken said. "I've played with some nicks and nagging injuries and things, and I've been able to plow through it. This is a different set of circumstances. There are a lot of various effects from surgery that you deal with. It is what it is."
Ripken described himself as "shut down for a few days" after visiting an orthopedic before arriving at Camden Yards yesterday afternoon. He received treatment before slowly walking through the clubhouse. Ripken said he is receiving stronger anti-inflammatory medication. Meanwhile, he has suspended workouts related to his rehabilitation.
Insisting he has wide range of movement, Ripken described his condition as "an issue of pain and inflammation. If you continue to go in this direction, something worse could happen. Pain is usually a guideline something's not right."
Ripken said he was told that scar tissue created by his surgery last Sept.23 is irritating the nerve, which was affected by stenosis in his lower back.
Hargrove and Ripken have met regularly all spring training and season. Hargrove rested Ripken four of the first 34 games before the third baseman sought him out after Thursday's game and had a follow-up around 4 p.m. yesterday.
"He's been a yellow flag all year long," said Hargrove.
Ripken's slower gait didn't escape notice of the dugout last night. The numbness that had followed him for much of the last three seasons had returned.
"I don't think there's been any one incident that caused it," said Hargrove. "It's just a combination of things. ... It's a condition that gets worse."
Ripken has experienced some degree of stiffness for most of this season, but his discomfort increased markedly during the just-completed road trip to New York and Toronto. Ripken played every game at third base in New York but approached Hargrove in Toronto about serving as designated hitter for the first time in his 20-year career. He started two games in the role before returning to third base Thursday. Ripken homered in the fourth inning, leaving him with hits in 19 of his past 22 games.
After enduring a sluggish spring in which he failed to muster an extra-base hit, Ripken is hitting .246 with seven home runs and 23 RBI, second-most on the team. Ripken's .465 slugging percentage is almost identical to the team's .465 mark.
Hargrove said the club likely would wait at least six games before placing Ripken on the disabled list. However, should the condition remain through the weekend, it is unlikely the club would view Monday's cross-country flight to Anaheim as therapeutic.
"The plane is not my friend when you sit on it for a long time," Ripken said. " As long as you get up [it's tolerable]. My only concern is to reduce the inflammation."
"If he gets much past the cutoff point, he'd go on the DL," said Hargrove.
Ripken's absence means that for at least the next week Mark Lewis will take his position, according to Hargrove. Ryan Minor will retain a reserve role.
"My thinking is that Mark is here as a role player. He's an established major-league player. Ryan is here because we have a spot available because of Will. If Cal's healthy, he's playing," said Hargrove.
"Ryan's chance to play every day is coming. I just feel if Cal is healthy and stays active, there's more room for Mark to play and stay sharp than for Ryan to play and stay sharp."