Brand-new beginning for Giants' Ortiz

Brand-new beginning for Giants' Ortiz

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It was a flaw, unseen and seemingly insignificant, in Russ Ortiz's pitching mechanics, but it put the brakes on his 92-mph fastball and confidence, and suddenly, the one-time 21-game winner was watching his career dissolve in a flurry of base hits.

"Humbling," Ortiz described the feeling as the former Giants ace faltered to a 5-11 campaign with Arizona in 2005, then hit rock bottom last season with a combined 0-8 record and 8.14 ERA pitching for the D-Backs and Orioles.

Fortunately for the 32-year-old right-hander, San Francisco took a slight gamble by rehiring him this winter for the Major League minimum, and the odds are that it should pay off for both parties.

Ortiz threw Thursday at Scottsdale Stadium for the first time, showing his new-old motion, the ball hardly the relative snoozer it was last season.

"He looks good and is really excited about everything," said pitching coach Dave Righetti. "It's hard to tell right now, but in terms of getting his arm out and feeling free, it's better."

There are no flaws now for Ortiz.

The nine-year veteran thanks Baltimore pitching coach Leo Mazzone with spotting that delivery error while studying videotapes last year after Ortiz was demoted to the bullpen.

"It was the way I took the ball out of my glove," said Ortiz. "Every pitcher wants to create a kind of arm circle, and I was taking the ball straight up."

It shortened his delivery and cost momentum, but after correcting his mechanics, Ortiz and the bullpen catchers saw immediate results.

"They'd tell me they saw life on the ball," said Ortiz, who showed continued improvement in Puerto Rican winter ball and caught the eye of Giants scouts. They were intrigued, as was general manager Brian Sabean.

"The velocity was there, he had come up with a cut fastball and the location was above average," said Sabean. "He was pretty much dominant down there. He's back closer to what he was when he left [after 2002]. He didn't realize he was getting as short as he did. It's not easy to change, but it looks good."

Although money isn't an issue now -- Ortiz took a record $20 million buyout from Arizona -- the pitcher is grateful the Giants are giving him a shot at the fifth starter's spot, along with a chance to revive his career.

Spring Training
News and features:
• Cain's feeling good:  350K
• Linden's dream comes true:  350K
• Zito's ready to go:  350K
• Vizquel on importance of camp:  350K
• Aurilia feels good to be back:  350K
• Bonds' adventures in LF:  350K
Spring Training info: coverage  |  Schedule  |  Ballpark  |  Tickets

"I had to deal with a lot of disappointing stuff last year -- it was the hardest time I've had in the game," said Ortiz. "It was very humbling. When I got released by the Diamondbacks, there wasn't a lot of interest, and it was real shocking, a blow to my pride."

At least he's in familiar company now, back where he began. Ortiz was a Giants star from 1999 to 2002, helped lead San Francisco to the World Series, and then hit an apex while winning 21 games for Atlanta in 2003.

Although Ortiz never took baseball for granted, his adversities have given him a new perspective.

"I matured in all facets of life, on and off the field," he said. "If I had stopped after last year, I could feel good about my career. I was 30 games over .500 as a starter.

"Not being able to get a win last year was pretty frustrating," said Ortiz. "It was hard to deal with. I know I haven't lost it, and after Leo helped me, I went to winter ball to make sure what I was brewing was the right thing."

It's sheer coincidence, but all pitchers involved in the Giants' trade of Ortiz to Atlanta for prospect Damian Moss and young Merkin Valdez are here in Scottsdale.

Moss, 30, had a rougher 2006 than Ortiz by far, toiling for Long Island of the independent Atlantic League and going 0-5 with a 7.67 ERA. He had been released in April from Atlanta's Triple-A club in Richmond and hadn't thrown in the Majors since 2004, compiling an 0-1 mark and 16.88 ERA for Tampa Bay.

Valdez is recovering from ligament-replacement surgery.

For Ortiz, it's a fresh start, and his work here feels natural -- just like the old days -- and full of renewed promise.

"It's nice to get confirmation of what my pitches were doing, what they had always done," he said. "I have confidence in all my pitches now -- it's 180 degrees from before."

Rich Draper is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.