ANAHEIM, Calif. - Third baseman Cal Ripken returned to the starting lineup last night after missing four games with a nerve irritation in his lower back, and first baseman Will Clark is expected to come off the disabled list tonight, which would allow the Orioles to field their original starting lineup for the first time in more than two weeks.
Ripken, who received an anti-inflammatory injection during a visit to orthopedic surgeon Dr. Henry Bohlman on Monday in Cleveland, said yesterday that he could have played in the series opener against the Anaheim Angels on Tuesday, but waited an extra day for some residual discomfort to die down.
"I felt good enough to do some things yesterday [Tuesday]," Ripken said. 'Technically, I could have played, I imagine, but there was still some soreness and numbness left over."
Ripken had been playing through some nerve pain for a couple of weeks before the inflammation worsened during last Thursday night's game against the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards. He left that game and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging that revealed scar tissue and a fragment of disc material irritating the nerve root where he underwent disc surgery in September.
The anti-inflammatory injection apparently did the trick. Ripken's condition improved markedly in the first 24 hours, enough that he said he could have pinch-hit on Tuesday if necessary.
Manager Mike Hargrove wrote him into the lineup at third base, but admitted that he did so with some normal apprehension.
"Yeah, a little bit," he said, "but nothing out of the ordinary. After a guy misses time because of a condition, the first game or two you have a little apprehension."
Ripken knows that he could be one diving play away from a relapse, but he said he will not be any less aggressive at third base because of the injury.
"That's part of being a player," he said. "If you had to curb that, there wouldn't be much sense in playing."
He proved his point when he delivered a run-scoring double in his first at-bat of the game and made an exaggerated hook slide to evade a tag at second base.
Ripken also grounded into the 328th double play of his career in the third inning, tying Hank Aaron for the dubious all-time major-league record.
Clark has missed 13 games since he was forced onto the disabled list with a strained left hamstring. He has made steady progress in his rehabilitation effort and said that he will be ready to play in the opener of a four-game series against the Texas Rangers tonight.
"I will be activated tomorrow," he said. "I get to drop my pom-pons and pick up my glove."
The Orioles are 2-11 since he was placed on the disabled list May 3. He was not a major run producer during the first month of the season, but ranked first in the AL in on-base percentage and fifth in batting average when the injury pushed him to the sidelines.
The club will have to make a roster move to make room for Clark. They likely will send third base prospect Ryan Minor back to Triple-A Rochester. The other option would be to waive utility man Mark Lewis, but Hargrove said earlier this month that he favored keeping a utility player for spot work. The club would prefer to keep Minor playing regularly in the minor leagues rather than have him ride the bench in the majors.
Regular left fielder B.J. Surhoff got a night off in the field last night. Hargrove moved him into the designated hitter role for a night and gave regular DH Harold Baines a rest against Angels left-hander Scott Schoeneweis. Utility outfielder Rich Amaral replaced Surhoff in left.
Keith Luuloa, who was promoted from the Angels' Triple-A Edmonton club after Tuesday night's game, made his major-league debut as a pinch runner for Bengie Molina last night and scored a run. Luuloa joined Onan Masaoka of the Dodgers and Benny Agbayani of the Mets as the only current Hawaiian-born players in the majors. ... Orioles starter Pat Rapp outlasted Benji Gil in a 15-pitch duel, striking him out in the fourth inning after nine consecutive fouls.