Ripken gets a shot of 'good news'


ANAHEIM, Calif. - Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken received an anti-inflammatory injection in his lower back on Monday and could return to the starting lineup as early as tonight.

Ripken, who was forced out of Thursday's game at Camden Yards with renewed soreness in his back and leg, traveled to Cleveland on the off day to have his back examined by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Henry Bohlman, the doctor who performed surgery to repair a disc injury last September.

Bohlman confirmed that the nerve irritation was caused by scar tissue and a small piece of disc material, but apparently ruled out another operation. He administered an injection to the nerve root and told Ripken that he could return to the lineup as soon as he felt up to it.

"I think it's good news," said Ripken, who rejoined the club at Edison International Field before last night's game against the Anaheim Angels. "I got a shot - a little different shot than before - directed straight into the nerve root. It had a pretty immediate effect. I'm still a little sore, but my tentative plan is to give it one more day and try it tomorrow."

Manager Mike Hargrove also seemed encouraged by the upbeat prognosis, though he wasn't quite ready to guarantee that Ripken would be in tonight's lineup.

'Talking to Cal today, he said his leg felt a lot better and wanted to give it one more day," Hargrove said. "It may be that we give him another day past tomorrow, but right now we're looking for him to be in the lineup tomorrow."

"He [Bohlman] thought it wasn't significant," Ripken said of his back problems. "I'm not too far out from surgery. If I wasn't a professional athlete, this wouldn't be of any concern. The fact that I am an athlete, with the things you have to do, there are going to be some bumps in the road."

Since no further procedure has been prescribed to remove the disc debris, it is conceivable that Ripken may have to deal periodically with this kind of problem for the remainder of his career.

"It's the set of circumstances that I have to deal with," he said. "For much of my career, I've been lucky enough not to have to worry about this kind of thing. I expect to have aches and pains ... [but] I'm very happy to report, they aren't overly concerned. I'm not overly concerned. I feel better and I want to play."

Clark about to return, too

Injured first baseman Will Clark apparently will be ready to re-enter the starting lineup when he becomes eligible to leave the disabled list tomorrow in Texas.

"I've got two more days before we make a decision," said Clark, trying to remain noncommittal. "The running has been progressing. I've been able to do more and more. There are two more days and I don't anticipate any setbacks."

Clark has been on the disabled list since he strained his left hamstring on May 2 in a game against the Anaheim Angels at Camden Yards, and he has been missed.

He was fifth in the American League with a .367 batting average and led the league with a .524 on-base percentage when he was forced out of the lineup. The team was 15-11 and just three games out of first place when he went on the DL. The Orioles were 1-10 without him.

"Richie [trainer Richie Bancells] tested Will today," said Hargrove. "He put him through all the paces. He tested out fine. I'm anticipating that he'll be ready to come off."

Though Clark seems equally encouraged, he remains guarded about the prospects for an immediate return.

"If I'm going to come off the DL, I have to be capable of doing everything I need to do on the field," he said. "So far, it's going OK."

Hairston to have surgery

Second base prospect Jerry Hairston has been putting it off for months, but he finally decided this week to undergo surgery to determine and correct the cause of chronic pain in his left shoulder.

Hairston, 23, has been experiencing pain in the labral area of the shoulder since the off-season, but resisted the decision to undergo surgery - apparently holding out hope that he would make the major-league club.

"I think that he just kept trying to fake it," said Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift. "I think he just put it off until he couldn't take it any more."

The operation will be performed by Houston orthopedic surgeon Dr. Walter Lowe in the next few days. The Orioles will not know until after the operation when Hairston will be able to return to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings.

"I don't know," Thrift added. "It could be anywhere from three weeks to whatever, but he'll play again this year."

Small summit

Thrift met with Hargrove and the coaching staff before yesterday's series opener against the Angels, but there probably won't be any drastic measures taken to pull the club out of its current tailspin."Everybody has the same problem," Thrift said. "So, if all of the sudden you overreact and get rid of a guy, there's a chance that he's going to find himself somewhere else. Then people are going to say, 'Look how stupid you are.' "

There had been speculation that the club would soon shake up the starting lineup and take a look at some younger players, but the loss of the club's top prospect (Hairston) to shoulder surgery makes that scenario unlikely.

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