CINCINNATI -- As Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn join baseball's greatest roster as Hall of Famers on Sunday, there will undoubtedly be countless stories told by those who were around the two legends during their careers about what it was like to be so close to greatness. Reds first baseman Jeff Conine shared a few such stories of his time playing alongside Ripken with the Orioles from 1999 to 2001, as well as his first two Major League seasons spent in Kansas City alongside 1999 Hall of Fame inductee George Brett, on Sunday morning before the Reds took on the Cubs at Great American Ball Park. "That's baseball," Conine said of his impressions of Ripken and Brett. "That's pure baseball, both of them. I mean, they lived, ate, slept, drank baseball. They were always focused on the game. It was a pleasure to be around."
Conine said beyond statistics and even his legendary toughness, what elevated Ripken to a higher level, as much as any other factor, was his passion to learn all he could about the game. "Cal brought a mental side of the game like no one I've ever played with," Conine said. " [He analyzed] situations and matchups. He was managing along with the manager. He wanted to think about the game and the way to play it. He studied the game. He was a baseball freak. That's all he wanted to talk about." While a teammate of Ripken's, Conine said that the Iron Man's passion for the nuances of the game pushed his Orioles teammates to keep up. "[Ripken] strategized," Conine said. "He knew the game as well or better than anyone I've ever played with. And that factors into it, I think. It makes everyone around him better." Harang going to be fine: After ace Aaron Harang left his start on Saturday night after just one inning of work with lower back stiffness, it was uncertain how long, if at all, he would be sidelined by the injury. On Sunday morning, Harang underwent an MRI, which revealed no structural damage to his lower back. "Harang, I think, is going to be fine," interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He didn't seem concerned at all about it, so that made me happy." Following Harang's MRI, the Reds announced that he would not travel with the team to Washington, but possibly could pitch in Pittsburgh next weekend. He had been scheduled to pitch Thursday against the Nationals. Harang will be re-examined in "a few days," according to the Reds' press release. The team's starting rotation after Sunday is currently listed as Kyle Lohse on Tuesday, Bronson Arroyo on Wednesday and TBA on Thursday. Guardado to travel with Louisville: After pitching a scoreless 13-pitch inning of relief on Saturday night with Triple-A Louisville, left-handed reliever Eddie Guardado said Sunday that he expects to pitch for Louisville again on Monday and Tuesday night before traveling with the Bats later next week to Norfolk and Richmond, Va. Guardado, who underwent Tommy John [elbow ligament replacement] surgery last September, said that he is eager to see how his elbow and arm will feel on Wednesday after pitching consecutive nights. "I think Monday and Tuesday are going to be big," Guardado said. "Wednesday is the day to see how I feel. It's always the day after. Like right now, just pitching the one inning yesterday, I know I only threw 13 pitches, but it feels good." Up next: The Reds will have an off-day Monday before traveling to the nation's capital to take on the Nationals for a three-game mid-week series. Lohse (6-12, 4.58) is scheduled to start for Cincinnati opposite lefty Matt Chico (4-6, 4.78) on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET.
Patrick Allegri is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.