FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Less sore than he expected after swinging a bat for the first time since fracturing a rib Feb. 12, Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken returned to the outdoor cage yesterday, this time under the watch of hitting coach Terry Crowley.
Ripken hit 30 balls off the tee, the same number as Monday and with the same easy stroke. He also took ground balls from Sam Perlozzo and ran the bases on one of the back fields, going from second to home with occasional interruptions to chat with various members of the Florida Marlins.
"No bad feelings," he said. "I'm just trying to take it slow and be careful. I haven't had any discomfort, but I'm only doing it very lightly and I try to add on to it and try to wait until the next day to see how it feels. So far, it feels fine."
Ripken is hesitant to project when he'll face live pitching for the first time. It remains a process of daily evaluation.
"In the back of my mind I always have some sort of timetable, but I want to keep a more open mind and kind of feel my way through," he said.
Seventeen exhibition games remain on the Orioles' spring schedule. Ripken considers 14 the "ideal" number to get ready, but said that might be "a little unrealistic." He would have to return to the lineup by Saturday.
"I'd like not to put any timetable on it and not create the expectation that I'll be ready at a certain point," he said. "I'm going to add more to my workload as the rib or the pain would allow me to.
"I thought I'd be sore today, but I'm really not that sore. I've been bending over, doing different things. I'm feeling pretty good."
"It's another step in the process," said manager Mike Hargrove. "Take more swings tomorrow and try to get to the point where he can start taking batting practice outside with coaches throwing to him. It's a day-to-day process, and tomorrow will be Day 3."
Ripken was alone in the cage for Monday's swings after being examined in Fort Lauderdale by orthopedist Dr. George Caldwell. Crowley asked to be present for yesterday's session.
"He was just getting the muscles used to following through. Nothing hard," Crowley said. "With a guy of his intelligence who's been around, he knows what he can and can't do. The last thing you want is a setback."
Barring one, Ripken fully expects to be at third base on April 2 when the Orioles begin their season at Camden Yards against the Boston Red Sox.
"I don't anticipate Opening Day to be a problem," he said. "Taking the very minimum, getting a week's worth of games in where you go to the plate 20, 21 times, I think that should be satisfactory enough."
Answer is in the cards
Jay Spurgeon thinks he has found the solution to his poor command this spring. It was located on one of his baseball cards.
Spurgeon, who made seven appearances with the Orioles last season after starting out at Single-A Frederick, noticed that his front arm wasn't showing in a photo taken for his major-league card. That meant he was keeping it too low, a mechanical flaw he carried into camp.
He threw against minor-league hitters in Fort Myers, Fla., three days ago and said the ball "exploded" out of his hand. The same was true in two bullpen sessions.
"I had better command, better everything," he said. "It's like a car. One thing gets out of tune and it won't run right. I'll try to take this into a game and go from there."
Around the horn
THE NUMBER: 3 - Home runs allowed by Pat Hentgen yesterday during his four innings against the Marlins. Two were hit in succession in the second inning, and another came in the third.
INJURY UPDATE: Hargrove said it's still "up in the air" whether reliever Alan Mills will be ready by Opening Day. Mills still hasn't been cleared to pitch after having arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in September. He's been throwing batting practice, and as the Orioles plow deeper into their spring schedule, his availability in April becomes less likely. "It gets better every day, but I don't know if he'll be ready," Hargrove said. "There's no reason to rush him."
Luis Matos underwent shoulder surgery yesterday in Birmingham, Ala., to repair damage to his left shoulder capsule. He will be precluded from baseball activities for two months, then undergo a one-month rehabilitation and may return to action by late June.
Pitcher Mark Nussbeck also was scheduled for surgery yesterday on what is thought to be a slight tear of the right rotator cuff.
Sun staff writer Joe Strauss contributed to this article.