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