Giants and Ortiz agree to 1-year contract

Updated: January 9, 2007, 8:33 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants might have found their fifth starter in the former ace of their staff, right-hander Russ Ortiz.

Ortiz agreed to a $380,000, one-year contract Tuesday to rejoin the Giants five seasons after helping the club reach the 2002 World Series.

"My hope was it would be great to come back to the Giants," Ortiz said. "It's a place obviously I love and my wife loves. We love the city and the ballpark and everything about it. We weren't holding our breath. It's one of those things you hope it works out. We thought this was the best opportunity for me to pitch. I'm very appreciative of Brian (Sabean) and the people he works with to get me there and help work this out."

For Ortiz, this will be a welcome fresh start after a frustrating year.

He was winless in 26 outings, including 11 starts, during 2006 for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Baltimore Orioles, who dropped him out of their rotation in July.

It was a low-risk move for San Francisco, which will pay the 32-year-old Ortiz the major league minimum, with Arizona responsible for the remainder of his $8.5 million salary for 2007.

Ortiz pitched in the Puerto Rican Winter League this offseason and continued to work on his mechanics after Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone helped him figure out what the problem was: how the ball was coming out of his glove. The Giants watched him closely and were impressed with his improved arm speed, command and breaking ball.

"Everybody in baseball knows his degree of passion, his professionalism and the type of person he is," Giants general manager Brian Sabean said. "We were actually very lucky (to see him in winter ball). ... There was competition, so we're flattered he chose the Giants."

Ortiz was the winning pitcher for the Giants in Game 3 of the World Series and started Game 6, when San Francisco came within six outs of a title before blowing it. After six shutout innings, Ortiz gave up two runs in the seventh.

Sabean said Ortiz will compete with rookie left-hander Jonathan Sanchez for the fifth spot, while Kevin Correia and Brad Hennessey have found their niche in the bullpen and will likely be used primarily in relief this season.

"My heart is being a starter," Ortiz said. "That's what I've prepared myself to do. It all comes down to opportunities. ... Anyone who knows me, all I care about is just winning."

If he cracks the rotation, Ortiz would follow a talented foursome featuring newly signed lefty ace Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Noah Lowry and Matt Morris. The Giants have missed the playoffs the past three years.

In three starts and four outings at winter ball, Ortiz went 1-1 with a 2.40 ERA and held opponents to a .196 batting average.

"We believe Russ deserves a chance at a comeback," Sabean said.

Ortiz, a 21-game winner and All-Star in 2003 who owns .208 career batting average, was traded by the Giants to the Atlanta Braves in December 2002 for Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez. San Francisco selected him in the fourth round of the 1995 amateur draft.

Ortiz was designated for assignment by Arizona last June 13 following 1½ disappointing seasons. After earning a $33 million, four-year deal as a free agent following his 21-7 season with Atlanta in 2003, Ortiz was 5-16 with a 7.00 ERA in 28 starts with Arizona, going 0-5 in six starts last year.

He knows his role with the Giants now is much different it was the last time he pitched in San Francisco.

"It's humbling," he said. "The last year and a half has been very humbling. I know it's made me a stronger person and has allowed me to grow in every facet of life, on the field and off."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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