Thursday, March 11, 2010
Fifth starter could be an Ortiz
By Tony Jackson
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- If you are considered old by major league pitching standards, your once-flourishing career has hit the skids, you are in camp on a minor league contract, you epitomize the term "reclamation project" and your last name happens to be Ortiz, well, you are looking pretty good right about now in this increasingly crowded race for the fifth spot in the Dodgers' starting rotation.
Ramon Ortiz is a 36-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic who won 44 games over a three-year stretch for the Angels from 2001 to 2003. Russ Ortiz is a 35-year-old right-hander from Montclair Prep High in Van Nuys, Calif., who won 99 games over a six-year stretch for San Francisco and Atlanta from 1999 to 2004 and once appeared to be on his way to pitching a World Series-clinching shutout before his manager inexplicably lifted him in the seventh inning.
They aren't related in any way, but after two Cactus League appearances apiece, they have almost identical pitching lines.
Russ Ortiz relieved James McDonald and pitched three shutout innings in a 6-4 victory over Kansas City before 5,083 at Surprise Stadium on Thursday, holding the Royals to two harmless singles while striking out three. The day before, pitching behind Vicente Padilla, Ramon Ortiz had shut out Arizona on one hit over three innings, also striking out three.
Each has thrown five shutout innings this spring. Ramon is holding opposing batters to a .143 average, Russ to a .167 average.
Ramon last pitched in the majors in 2007 with Colorado, where he posted a 7.62 ERA in 10 relief appearances. He spent 2008 with the Orix Buffaloes and last season with San Francisco's Triple-A Fresno affiliate. Russ was released by Houston on July 30, when he was 3-6 with a 5.57 ERA, then spent the rest of the year with the Triple-A affiliates of the New York Yankees and the Rockies.
For Russ, the resurgence started with a mechanical adjustment this spring.
"He has accepted a few of the things we have asked him to do," Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "He was kind of a straight-up-and-down guy. Now, he is making just a little turn in his delivery to give his arm a little more time. Where he was in the past, he had different mechanics in how he threw. ... [But] he was extremely strong back then."
The new delivery, then, is a concession to age. Whatever it is, it appears to be working, at least at this early juncture of spring training. Ortiz allowed only one Royals runner past first base, and Scott Podsednik had to steal second to get there.
McDonald, the pre-spring favorite for the fifth spot, was his own worst enemy, walking or hitting either the first or second batter in all three of his innings. For the spring, he has now given up six runs and eight hits over four-plus innings. He was lifted after giving up a two-run homer to Podsednik, who cut what had once been a 4-0 Dodgers lead to 4-3.
The other candidates for the job have been a mixed bag. Charlie Haeger is sidelined because of a back injury. Neither Carlos Monasterios nor Eric Stults has given up a run, but neither has made more than one appearance.
Anderson to make debut Sunday
Garret Anderson will make his first Cactus League appearance for the Dodgers on Sunday against Texas. It isn't clear whether he will play first base, where he has been taking ground balls for the first time in his major league career, but he won't be a designated hitter. "We asked him about DHing, but he said he would rather get on the field," said Dodgers hitting coach Don Mattingly, who is managing the team while Joe Torre is in Taiwan with a split squad. ... Casey Blake returned to the lineup after a two-game absence because of back pain and went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer off Royals Rule 5 pick Edgar Osuna. Blake is hitting .571 (4-for-7) for the spring.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.