Results tagged ‘ Russ Ortiz ’

Farewell to Russ Ortiz.

While Russ Ortiz quietly and eloquently addressed reporters about being released by the Astros, I turned to Doug Brocail and said, “I absolutely hate this part.”

Days like Thursday, simply put, stink. We know baseball is a business. We hear it ad nauseum from owners, GMs, managers and players. We get it. But baseball also happens to be a business where the product is people, and that makes times like this tough if you know the person affected.

The process by which a team releases one player and calls up another happens swiftly and efficiently, especially on a “getaway day,” which is code for the last game a team will play in one city before flying to the next.

Once the Astros made the final out Thursday at Wrigley Field, they filed into the clubhouse, and a few key figures immediately convened in Cecil Cooper’s office, with the door closed.

Following a brief phone call involving GM Ed Wade, who was not with the team in Chicago, Cooper summoned Ortiz into his office, and judging from Ortiz’s expression, he didn’t seem terribly surprised that the manager wanted to talk to him.

A somewhat lengthy closed-door conversation took place, with Ortiz receiving the news that he was released. Soon, the door opened, and Ortiz, expressionless, exited the office. “Thanks for everything, Russ,” Cooper said, likely his final formal words to the veteran pitcher.

The clubhouse was quiet — expected, given the loss to the Cubs and the realization that a teammate was just given his walking papers. Slowly, players filtered over to Ortiz’s locker, offering hugs and handshakes and well-wishes for their now former teammate.

Here’s the tough part — talking to the media. Ortiz spoke in hushed tones, but he handled himself with grace and professionalism. He was matter-of-fact when asked for his reaction: “I told them I understood. This is an important time of year…they didn’t obviously feel like they can keep sending me out. I don’t want to pitch like this and not have them confident in me. Even though I never wanted this to happen, it’s part of the game.

“I just wasn’t able to get it done, especially the last 2 times out. I came out for the game (Thursday) feeling I was ready.”

Cooper was direct and entirely correct when he said, “We can’t keep going like this. It’s killing our bullpen. Particularly today was really tough on us.”

Between Ortiz and Mike Hampton, starting pitchers absorbed exactly 6 1/3 innings over the last two games in Chicago, which left the bullpen to account for the other 9 2/3 frames. This couldn’t continue, especially considering Wesley Wright is recovering from a severe case of dehydration, Brocail is just now returning from the DL and Chris Sampson, less than a week off the DL, is again being overworked.

So yes, they can’t keep going like this. And I am sure Hampton realizes he’s on notice as well.

Bud Norris moves into the rotation, but what happens in St. Louis this weekend will depend on a few circumstances. The club first needs to determine if Roy Oswalt will be healthy enough to start Sunday (I have my doubts). Here’s what Wade told reporters via conference call following Thursday’s game:

“At this point, a couple of alternatives that we have. One, if Roy is ready to go Sunday in his start, then that would allow us to slide Norris into Russ’s slot in the rotation. If we have to think of the possibility of giving Roy a couple extra days, we can put him in the Ortiz spot in the rotation and give Norris the start on Sunday.

“If we have to skip Roy, then we’re going to have to reconvene and try to figure out how we cover both his start and Russ’s spot.

“So, there are sort of the moving parts, and they’ll be dictated by how Roy feels once he gets to St. Louis (Friday) and he and (head athletic trainer) Nate (Lucero) have a chance to talk. We’re going to talk on the flight over about the possibility of maybe shifting Roy a couple of days to cover both spots.”

Read McTaggart’s story here.

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Moving on…

The Astros obviously didn’t fare so well in Chicago, but they did score some runs here and there, which may turn out to be good news for your wallet. The Astros recently rolled out a “We Score, You Score” promotion, which gives you one dollar off field box tickets for each run the Astros scored during their four-game series with the Cubs. The offer extends to the first three games of the homestand next week.

The Astros scored 15 runs, so a $39 Field Box ticket is now $24. Check it out here.

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Astros through the years (and the lens of my camera).

During Spring Training, I posted a three-part pictorial series on my blog, where I shared some of my favorite snapshots of the last 12-plus years. Thanks to Facebook, I have a handy place to store those photos, and now fans can peruse at their leisure. They’re posted in the “photos” section near the top of the Astros Facebook page. Check it out and feel free to comment, I hope you get as much enjoyment from them as I have.

You’ll also find every other picture I’ve posted on my blog over the last several months in the photo section. Enjoy!

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Astros pass first test of second half. Next up, Cardinals.

The Astros should have won the game Sunday and exited Los Angeles with three wins over the Dodgers, but despite the disappointment following their 4-3 loss in the finale, they were able to draw some positives.

True, they had to “settle” for a split, but considering that split came against agruably the best team in the National League, the trip cannot be deemed a failure.

I’ll be honest, after the Astros did what they were supposed to do against the Pirates and Nationals just before the All-Star break, I thought the good times might be coming to an end, or if not an end, a slow crawl. But the Astros passed their first test, one that begins a challenging stretch against some of the league’s best — the Dodgers, Cardinals and Cubs, to name a few.

“Everyone in here knows we should have won this game,” Russ Ortiz said following Sunday’s loss. “But we’re a mature enough clubhouse to not let this affect us. We hit well this series and we pitched well against the best lineup in the league.”

Speaking of Ortiz, I think we witnessed a bit of a breakthrough — maybe a better word is truce — between the veteran right-hander and manager Cecil Cooper. When Coop went to talk to Ortiz after Ortiz gave up a base hit to Andre Ethier with two outs in the sixth, Coop seemed to be wavering between pulling the plug and letting Ortiz finish what he started.

With his arm around Ortiz’s waist, Coop said, “Hey, this is your guy to get. So go get him.’

“And,” Coop said later in his office, after Ortiz coaxed a 4-3 groundout from James Loney, “He went and got him.”

The vote of confidence meant a lot to Ortiz, who as you probably remember lashed out at the manager, through the media, for yanking him prematurely during his last start before the All-Star break.

Sunday’s communication between pitcher and manager is a positive sign that the ugliness from the last altercation has been dropped.

“(Cooper) said, ‘This is your guy,'” Ortiz said. “I knew if I made my pitches, I could get him out. (Cooper) had (asked me how I was feeling) a couple of times already. To be able to finish off the inning was big, not only confidence-wise for me but confidence-wise for (Cooper). It was a good thing for him to come out and tell me this is my guy, and then to be able to get him out.”

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Bits and pieces, odds and ends and ramblings from the road trip:

* If Puma wasn’t a baseball player he’d be a country singer (assuming he can actually carry a tune; jury’s still out on that one). His reasons:
You never really have a bad day at work
You get to sing for a living
If you forget the words, you can just stick the microphone out to the crowd and let them sing it for you.

* I asked Puma if he’d ever consider giving up switch-hitting and just hit left-handed full-time. He said switch-hitting is something he’s done his entire life, and facing lefties from the left side of the plate is simply awkward at this stage of the game. Had he done it before, he might consider it, but he doubts he’d be very good at it now.

I don’t blame him. So much of playing baseball is based on muscle memory, on repetition, on reacting rather than thinking. To try to learn something new at this stage of the game — Puma just celebrated the 10-year anniversary of his Major League debut — is probably asking a little too much.

* Kind of a slow weekend in terms of celebrity sightings at Dodger Stadium. Of course, nothing can top spotting Rob Lowe in the Diamond Club area after an Astros-Dodgers game a couple of years ago, but the scoreboard will always capture a dozen or so A-listers on any given weekend. This time, I counted three — Larry King, Calista Flockhart and the kid from Two-and-a-half Men.

* Sat in front of Russ Ortiz and his soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter on the flight home. Let’s just say baseball took a backseat to High School Musical and Miley Cyrus. Awesome.

* A tip of the cap to head athletic trainer Nate Lucero, who celebrated the 19th anniversary of his 21st birthday on Sunday.

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Oswalt threw 17 pitches. When should he pitch next?

Let’s call Saturday’s start a bullpen session for our resident ace, who was out after one inning and 17 pitches because of a one-hour, 37-minute rain delay.

There is no reason why Oswalt can’t pitch as early as Monday. Russ Ortiz is scheduled to start that game. Brian Moehler is scheduled for Tuesday. Who should Oswalt bump?

Worried about Valverde? You bet I am.

It’s never a good sign when the closer is limping around the mound while attempting to close out a game. Valverde logged the save Sunday but then hobbled into the clubhouse, hobbled toward his locker and did everything in his power not to put any pressure on that bum leg. Not good.

Then, when I asked him how he was feeling, he said, “I’m not ready yet. I don’t feel 100 percent, but I have to support my team.”

This is alarming, because Valverde is the type of pitcher who will play through anything and swear up and down, left and right that he’s totally fine, because the competitor in him is telling him he’s fine even if he’s not totally fine. For him to come right out and say, in essence, “I’m not fine” is worrisome. He must be in some kind of pain.

So we’ll see what happens this week in Cincinnati. The bullpen is beat up after throwing 10 innings in the last two days, so not having a fully healthy Valverde could be a big, big problem this week.

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Russ Ortiz has to be more efficient if he’s going to be a part of this rotation. He threw 97 pitches on Sunday and got through only five innings. That’s not good enough, and he’s fully aware of that.

“There were times today where I made pitches early in the count and they swung and got out in three or four pitches,” he said after the win over the Brewers. “That was the whole goal — get some outs as soon as possible — obviously, not throwing pitches right down the middle of the plate — but making quality pitches early and that was the goal. These [Brewers] hitters, I think they know me, that I’m going to throw a lot of pitches and they’re laying off some pretty close pitches. I just keep plugging away and I’m not going to change anything. Certain hitters, I need to do a better job of getting ahead early.”

That said, Ortiz understood the importance of winning that final game with the Brewers. The homestand was already a disappointment, but a sweep by the Brewers would have been brutal.

“I think everybody in this clubhouse knew we had to win,” Ortiz said. “It was a must-win game today. Those are games I love to pitch in, because I’ve always felt like I want to be a go-to guy. I want to be a guy that can stop something or that can keep something going. I want these guys to know that when I’m going out, we have a really good shot at winning. Today, I knew it was an important game. That’s what Pudge and I talked about. We needed to win this game.”

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Wanted: wins. Gall saves the day.

Prior to Saturday’s game, manager Cecil Cooper was fuming about the Astros being shut out two times in eight games. As I watched the ninth inning between the Astros and Cardinals later that afternoon, I wondered how Coop would react to the Astros being shut out three times in nine games, which, if an historical account of Grapefruit League stats actually existed, could very well have proven to be a record.

Thanks to John Gall, we don’t have to pretend to research that little factoid. With two outs in the ninth, Gall doubled home Chris Johnson, which allowed the Astros to lose 5-1 instead of 5-0. It’s the little things that keep us going, no?

So even though the Astros haven’t won since their first game of the Grapefruit League season — save for their win over Panama, which doesn’t count as a win in the league standings — there are a few positives to draw from this game. Mike Hampton looked OK, and he said he feels like he’s getting better every time out. Hampton allowed two runs over three innings, but he breezed through his first two frames, retiring six consecutive batters.

Russ Ortiz, my pick to be the fifth starter, didn’t do so well. He allowed three runs over 2 2/3 innings and admitted later he didn’t feel comfortable for very much of this outing.

“I was just off,” he said. “Timing-wise, I was just late. I was trying to force everything, trying to catch up.

“The first inning, I was fine. I came out the second inning and I was just off, from the get-go. You get frustrated and start thinking too much, at least that’s what I did. You’re almost kind of thinking when you want to throw [inside], I tell myself,

‘Make sure it’s in,’ instead of just, ‘OK, fastball in, here it is.’ With those thoughts in your head, you’re fighting an uphill battle.”

The next time through the rotation, Ortiz can expect to start a game, rather than enter in the middle as he has his first three spring outings.

I know it’s only Spring Training, but the Astros could really, really use a win right about now. Sunday in Bradenton would be a good time to start.

Quiet day in Kissimmee. Wandy improving.

Today was what we at MLB.com refer to as a”shorty” day. In a nutshell, this means that when the team is on an especially long road trip, the beat reporter, in this case, me, stays back and covers the workout at the home complex instead of covering the game. Since about half of the players go to each road game and half stay home, I’m usually guaranteed to be able to find something to write about from the morning workouts at the home park.

This morning I ran into Wandy Rodriguez, who said he threw six minutes on flat ground without any pain. This is good news, considering he’s slated to miss two starts with a strained muscle on his left side. Wandy is pretty confident he’ll throw a bullpen sometime in the near future, and he’s not even convinced he’ll need to miss more than one start. We’ll see.Doug Brocail probably won’t make more than five or six appearances all spring, which is fine with him. It’s unlikely he’ll be overused during the regular season like he was the first four months of last year, before LaTroy Hawkins arrived, but still, Brocail is preparing to be plenty busy. At 41 years old and entering his 15th Major League season, he knows how to get ready for the season, so it’s probably a good idea that he’s scaling back on the workload this spring.

The last time I posted pictures on this blog it was well-received, so here’s some more shots that I took from the workout this morning. Enjoy. I’m taking the next two days off (thankfully) so I’ll catch up with you on Friday.

Here we have Berkman and Boone doing sprints.

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And Geoff Blum doing much of the same:

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Kaz Matsui taking BP

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Chris Sampson, throwing a bullpen session:

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Doug Brocail and Russ Ortiz, during PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice):

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