Resuming baseball-related activities for the first time since going on the disabled list, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken has hit off a tee and done some throwing the past two days while intent on playing again this season.
"I'm in no way willing to concede that I can't put the uniform on yet," he said.
Ripken had remained inactive since receiving a second cortisone injection on June 28 to quiet a nerve irritation in his lower back. He had been forced from the previous night's game in the 10th inning while running hard on a ground ball in Boston.
Given approval from the medical staff to enter the indoor batting cage, Ripken took about 20 easy swings on Sunday and didn't report any problems. He also did some exercises to strengthen his back and left leg and planned on hitting again yesterday, perhaps increasing the number of swings and seeing how his body responded the next morning.
"I've had a day to feel what the effects are and I feel pretty good today. I was surprised," said Ripken, speaking to reporters for the first time since the All-Star break.
"I was anticipating that it would give me some kind of indication, positively or negatively. I figured I would be a little sore, but I feel OK."
Though encouraged by his progress, Ripken admitted the improvement has been "slower than I would like." He also said the burning sensation down his leg mostly has subsided, but he still experiences some numbness on occasion.
"I still feel sometimes like the leg is starting to fall asleep, or you have some feeling from the nerve, but nothing excruciating," he said. "I just want to let the inflammation die down as much as possible before I start to do things. My level of activity now is to see if it inflames the area or doesn't inflame the area. I'm happy to report that swinging the bat 20 times and doing my exercises in the weight room, I don't think I inflamed the area.
"I had been going a little stir-crazy. I was able to do some things yesterday so I was happy about that."
Ripken, who continues to take anti-inflammatory medicine, hasn't set a timetable for his return. He still must simulate the jarring movements, like running and jumping, that can spike the nerve and make simple acts like walking and sitting too painful.
"It all depends how I feel on a day-to-day basis," he said. "I would assume I'll throw a little more today and do a little more in the weight room, maybe simulate some fielding where you're bending and throwing. I would imagine the running would be last, but all that has to be discussed. ... I don't want to set a timetable, but in my own mind I would like to get back as fast as I can."
Manager Mike Hargrove also wasn't specific. "He'll take some more swings and then we'll see where we're at," he said. "It's a day-to-day thing, but he's a lot further along now than he was this time last week."
Pressed on when he thought Ripken might return, Hargrove said, ""I don't know. I don't think it's going to be tomorrow, but we're a lot closer now. I'm not trying to hedge. I really don't know."
Ripken's average had dipped to .239, with 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 62 games, before going on the disabled list for the third time in his career. He briefly considered playing in the All-Star Game after being elected for the 16th time, but didn't want to jeopardize returning to the Orioles. He said he watched the event on television, with conflicting emotions tugging at him, especially when the players were introduced with the children.
"The reaction from both of my kids was, 'Are those the players' kids on the field?' And I said, 'I think so.' That was the part they were most interested in and I thought that was a cool thing," he said.
As for speculation that he would retire, which mounted when he chose not to attend the All-Star Game, Ripken said, "I find it comical more so than worrisome that I'm that important that someone would actually create and start rumors. I hear some of those things and I wonder where those things came from.
"It's very simple. I enjoy being a baseball player and to be in uniform. The first part of this year there were some challenges from surgery and rehab, but I felt like I was swinging the bat well. I was happy with the way I was moving and the way I was playing. I'd like to let this [nerve irritation] die down. I'll be a lot healthier and pain-free and put the uniform on and go out and see what happens. Things have a way of taking care of themselves."
Second cup of Coffie
Rookie Ivanon Coffie, coming off a productive major-league debut on Sunday, was in the lineup again last night against Florida right-hander Reid Cornelius.
Coffie again started at third base, where he handled only one chance on Sunday. He had gone 1-for-3 with an RBI, a walk and a run scored, increasing the club's interest in seeing more of him.
"He's not going to play every day," Hargrove said of Coffie, who went 0-for-3 last night but made a diving play in the field. "He very well could play four or five times a week, or it could be that he plays two or three times a week.
"If you can pick and choose your spots, it gives them a better chance to get their feet on the ground and get some confidence going and start feeling comfortable in their surroundings and be more productive quicker and more consistently."
Timlin: Closer without title
Though he has saved the Orioles' last four wins, Mike Timlin hasn't been anointed the closer again. It's more of an unspoken role, with no cumbersome titles to weigh him down.
Club officials prefer not to heap pressure upon Timlin, who has converted 11 of 15 opportunities, by naming him the closer. He'll just be handed the ball in most save situations as he was last night, when he used only 11 pitches in a 1-2-3 ninth.
"I'm going to hold off making that pronouncement," Hargrove said. "Right now he's doing a good job. We'll just leave it at that."
Opponent: Florida Marlins
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Marlins' Jesus Sanchez (5-7, 5.47) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (6-8, 3.82)