Ex-Brave R. Ortiz leans toward O's

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

Free-agent starting pitcher looks at a possible Mazzone reunion

Notebook

June 24, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER AND JEFF ZREBIEC | CHILDS WALKER AND JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTERS

The Orioles are the front-runners to sign free-agent starter Russ Ortiz and a deal could happen as early as today, according to industry sources.

"We're talking with them," said Ortiz's agent, John Boggs, adding that pitching coach Leo Mazzone carries "a lot of weight" with Ortiz. "I would say at this point, that they are probably the front-runner."

The Arizona Diamondbacks released Ortiz last week after a season and a half of ineffectiveness. They still owe him $22 million on the four-year, $33 million deal he signed before last season.

Ortiz, 32, was once a workhorse for the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves. He posted his only 20-win season under Mazzone in Atlanta in 2003. But he pitched poorly from Day One with the Diamondbacks, going 5-11 with a 6.89 ERA in 2005 and 0-5 with a 7.54 ERA this season.

"We have some interest in him," Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said. "But right now, there are other clubs interested in him, too."

The Orioles are one of at least five teams, including the New York Yankees, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs, interested in Ortiz, sources said.

Ortiz would likely compete for a job at the back of the Orioles' rotation, a weak area all season. The Orioles would be responsible for the pro-rated portion of the minimum major league salary, which is $327,000.

Boggs said negotiations for Ortiz could move quickly. "Russ is anxious to hurry up, focus in on the club and make a move," he said.

The Orioles have also had trade talks with the Colorado Rockies about outfielder-first baseman Ryan Shealy, but a deal for the power-hitting prospect may be difficult to complete, because the Rockies are focused on Orioles pitching prospects.

Despite their need for a power-hitting catcher, the Rockies are not interested in Javy Lopez, an industry source said.

Shealy, 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds, has swung a potent bat in his minor league career but has struggled to find a defensive home. All-Star Todd Helton has blocked him at first base and he's never shown range to be a corner outfielder. The 26-year-old batted .330 with two homers and 16 RBIs in 91 at-bats during a late-season call-up last year.

So sorry

When Orioles pitcher Chris Ray returned to the clubhouse Thursday night after blowing his first save of the season, one of the first things he did was find teammate Kris Benson and apologize.

Benson watched what would have been his third straight win go by the wayside in the ninth inning when the Orioles bullpen blew a 5-1 lead. Ray gave up back-to-back, two-out home runs to pinch hitters, blowing his first save in 19 opportunities.

"I told him I was sorry," Ray said of his chat with Benson. "He pitched a good game. He said, `Man don't worry about it.' He's been around the game for a while. He knows that stuff happens. But the way he pitched, he deserved to win and the team deserved to win that game."

The closer hung around the clubhouse a little longer than usual, to try to get the disappointment out of his system rather than bring it home from the ballpark.

"I sat in the training room for a while, talked to a few guys," the 24-year-old pitcher said. "When I left here, obviously I was unhappy, but I didn't really dwell on it. ... It's something to learn from."

Breaking out

Catcher Ramon Hernandez broke an 0-for-23 slump with two home runs in Thursday's loss to the Marlins.

Hernandez, who started at designated hitter last night, said he was never worried about the bad spell. "I think everybody goes through that," he said. "It's a long season. You're always going to have your ups and downs."

Defusing trade talk

Manager Sam Perlozzo said he's received no indications that the club is looking to trade shortstop Miguel Tejada.

"Unless somebody overwhelms us, I would hope that Miggy stays put," he said.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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