Vazquez more experienced than Ortiz, Melvin said

Updated: February 21, 2005, 7:01 PM ET
Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. -- New Arizona manager Bob Melvin got one big decision out of the way on Monday, selecting Javier Vazquez as the opening day starter more than a month before the season begins.

Javier Vazquez
Starting Pitcher
Arizona Diamondbacks
Profile
2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM W L Sv K ERA
32 14 10 0 150 4.91

Vazquez got the nod over fellow right-hander Russ Ortiz, who got the first opening day start of his career last season with the Atlanta Braves.

"It could have been either of them," Melvin said. "It could have been (Shawn) Estes. We have four guys we're going to feel very good about the day we run them out there. Vazquez had a little bit more experience pitching opening day."

The announcement came on the day Arizona position players reported for spring training. Melvin told reporters he made the decision "to get it over with so you guys would quit asking me every day."

Vazquez initially was a reluctant participant in the trade that sent Randy Johnson to the New York Yankees. The right-hander wanted to stay with the Yankees to prove his worth after a bad second half of last season, and if he was traded, he wanted to stay in the East.

Conversations with Diamondbacks ownership, management and players left Vazquez saying he was happy to be with Arizona, and anxious to show that last season's troubles were an aberration.

Vazquez had three opening-day starts with Montreal.

"It is an honor, believe me, especially when you have such quality guys in our rotation," Vazquez said. "It's an honor and hopefully I don't disappoint."

Ortiz signed a four-year, $33 million contract with the Diamondbacks, one of the early elements of the massive personnel overhauls the Diamondbacks made in the offseason. He insisted he has no disappointment over not being picked as the No. 1 starter.

"Why should there be?" Ortiz said. "I'm pitching in the big leagues. I'm making a great living, having fun, on a good team. That's an ego thing. It's not about me, it's about the team. I think, for me, once it starts to become about me I'm going to probably quit."

Ortiz will follow Vazquez in the rotation, with right-hander Brandon Webb third and the left-handed Estes fourth. However, if a left-hander wins the No. 5 starting job, Estes will be third and Webb fourth, Melvin said.

Vazquez, entering his eighth season, has a 78-78 career record, but the first six were with the lowly Expos. He was 14-10 with a 4.91 ERA and made the All-Star Game in 2004 with the Yankees. But in his last 10 starts, he was 2-4 with a 6.75 ERA and had an awful postseason. The National League's only 20-game winner in 2003, Ortiz was 15-9 with a 4.19 ERA with the Braves last year. He has a 103-60 career record with a 4.30 ERA.

"Whether it's me or Javy at the top of the rotation," Ortiz said, "both of us are going to have to lead by example, and I think both of us will be able to give this team a lot of innings."

Vazquez would be only the third opening day starter in the Diamondbacks' eight-year history. Johnson headed the rotation the last six seasons. Andy Benes was the starter in Arizona's first game ever -- in 1998.

Arizona opens its season on April 4 at home against the Chicago Cubs.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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