ANAHEIM, Calif. - Cal Ripken's recovery reached two new levels last night: third base and cleanup hitter.
Ripken approached manager Mike Hargrove yesterday to inform him that his lower back was ready for its first test at third base since June 27, the night shooting pain forced him from the 10th inning of a game in Boston and onto the disabled list for the third time in two seasons.
Ripken had played four games as designated hitter before last night against the Anaheim Angels. Ripken entered 5-for-14 with three doubles and four RBIs and was generally encouraged by his productivity and health.
The continued absence of Albert Belle due to a sore hip freed the cleanup spot, which Ripken last filled on Aug. 19, 1997. Jeff Conine had filled the role in the four games previously missed this season by Belle.
Conine, hitting .333 over his past 19 games, sat last night against right-hander Ramon Ortiz one game after his seven-game hit streak died in Minnesota.
"The plan is for Cal to play third base and get three at-bats," said Hargrove. "If everything goes all right in the field, we'll DH him [today]. That's to be determined later."
Ripken refrained from returning to the field during the three-game series in Minnesota, partly because of the Metrodome's artificial turf. Last night represented the first in what he hopes will be several returns to help him determine his future.
Belle's return not imminent
Hargrove confirmed last night that Belle's sore right hip would likely prevent him from appearing in the remainder of the Angels series. Indeed, Hargrove could not say when Belle would return.
Examined by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Michael Jacobs and Dr. Charles Silverstein in Baltimore Wednesday, Belle rejoined the team yesterday but did not participate in baseball-related activities. He carried his glove onto the field but did not shag.
"I'm not real sure. I think it's a day-to-day thing with Albert right now," Hargrove said. "I personally think the more rest we give him right now - if we sit him for two or three games now, can he play 20 [in a row]? Or if we play him now, does he play only 15 of them? We'll give him rest and talk about it tomorrow."
Hargrove said there has yet to be any talk of shutting down Belle for the rest of the season.
His recent shutdown appears to have extinguished his chances for a ninth consecutive season of both 100 RBIs and 30 home runs. Belle currently stands on 97 RBIs and 22 home runs.
Maduro, Erickson sighting
Pitcher Calvin Maduro met the team last night and threw for the fourth time since being placed on the 60-day disabled list with a ligament strain. Maduro had thrown twice in Bowie and once in Frederick before yesterday's session.
Maduro said he plans to report to Ponce of the Puerto Rican Winter League by Nov. 20.
Scott Erickson resurfaced for the first time since undergoing ligament replacement surgery Aug. 8 in Los Angelos. Noticeably thinner and sporting a fu manchu, Erickson greeted teammates before continuing a postgame tradition by leaving without addressing media. Erickson is not expected to return until late next season, if then.
Around the horn
Hargrove said he is undecided about his starting pitchers for next Tuesday's doubleheader in Texas, but indications point to rookies Jay Spurgeon and John Parrish. Hargrove would not rule out Luis Rivera as a possibility. Acquired from the Atlanta Braves July 31 for B. J. Surhoff, Rivera has yet to pitch for the Orioles after spreading eight innings over three starts in Rochester.