HOUSTON -- The Astros added another candidate to their starting-rotation pool when they signed veteran right-hander Russ Ortiz to a Minor League contract and invited him to Major League Spring Training on Tuesday.
Ortiz, 34, last pitched in 2007 for the Giants. His final start was Aug. 20, when he walked off the mound after throwing three pitches in the fifth inning. He was originally diagnosed with a right elbow strain that required surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon, but ultimately, he underwent Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, which forced him to miss the entire '08 season.
General manager Ed Wade sent pro scout Jack Lind to Arizona last September to watch Ortiz work out, and he received favorable reports about the 34-year-old righty.
"[Lind] watched him throw and thought he threw free and easy, with no apparent physical issues at all," Wade said. "It's something [assistant GM] David [Gottfried] has been working on for a couple of months. At different points in time I'm sure [Ortiz] was looking for a big league deal, but we believe he'll have every opportunity to win a job during Spring Training.
"We'll put him in the mix. He hasn't been healthy for a few years, but he's had the Tommy John surgery and he's shown in the past what a healthy Russ Ortiz is capable of doing."
Ortiz has a career record of 110-82 with a 4.42 ERA over 282 games. He's played for the Giants (1998-2002,'07), Braves ('03-'04), Diamondbacks ('05-'06) and Orioles ('06).
Four rotation spots are seemingly already secured by Roy Oswalt, Mike Hampton, Wandy Rodriguez and Brian Moehler. That leaves the fifth starter spot up for grabs. Ortiz, Brandon Backe and Clay Hensley are expected to compete for the job, and it's possible the Astros could add more names to the mix before Spring Training begins.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.