Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken yesterday replaced his "very optimistic" 2-week-old prediction of an imminent return from nerve inflammation with a more realistic one.
His modified forecast provides no target date; however, Ripken said he hopes to participate in on-field preparation before tonight's game for the first time since landing on the disabled list June 28.
Barring a wet field, Ripken will take ground balls tonight while continuing to swing under the supervision of hitting coach Terry Crowley. When he might return to the lineup is uncertain.
Ripken said during the All-Star break that he hoped to be activated during the July 16-18 series against the Florida Marlins. He refrained from participating in activities surrounding the All-Star Game in part to better position himself for such a return.
"I made a very optimistic guess based on some of the improvement I felt," Ripken said. "Knowing where I was baseball-wise, I had some experience being off two weeks then picking up where you left off as long as you're OK healthwise."
Ripken, who turns 40 Aug. 24, hasn't run since June 27, when searing pain caused him to double over after running out a ground ball in the 10th inning of a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox. Doctors have allowed him to gradually increase his workload, saving running for his final hurdle.
Ripken has missed 24 games while waiting out his third trip to the disabled list in two seasons. He didn't accompany the Orioles on last weekend's three-game road trip to Toronto, opting to hit off a tee and a batting machine at his Reisterstown home.
Sunday's 20-minute session was split evenly between tee work and the machine. The length of this stay approximates two stints last season, when he missed 22 games from April 20 to May 13 and 28 games Aug. 3 to 31. Ripken emerged from both stays as an offensive force.
Despite having to be more patient than he would like, Ripken said his body has yet to rebel during his rehabilitation.
"I haven't done anything where I've put myself at risk yet," said Ripken, who has helped his rehabilitation with movements in his pool and trunk stabilization exercises without any explosive leaping attempts. Ripken also has resumed weightlifting and throwing.
"It's a timetable, and it's a common-sense approach," he said. "Maybe it's not operating on a timetable as much as it is operating based on how you feel after doing something."
For now, Ripken dismisses talk of a possible rehab assignment or whether he might return as a designated hitter while Ryan Minor or Ivanon Coffie plays third base.
"We'll do that when the time is right," Ripken said. "I'd like to have that problem to make that decision. I'd like to continue along the path I'm going. A decision like that would mean I'm ready to play, and I would welcome any conversation when I'm ready to play."
Apparently, that conversation is not imminent. Manager Mike Hargrove made no predictions last night, citing Ripken and team doctors as in control of his return.
Ripken refers to his condition as a "second herniation" and says doctors have told him there is an 80 percent chance it will resolve itself. If it doesn't, surgery eventually becomes an option.
"This is no different; you just treat it for what it is. You don't lie to yourself. You don't say it's something different. It is what it is," he said, adding, "what I've learned is not to look too far ahead. A lot of things I do now are governed by how I feel the next day."