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Notes: Ortiz ready for Sunday10/08/2004 8:52 PM ET
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- When Russ Ortiz was told that he'll be opposing Roger Clemens in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Sunday, the Braves right-hander was on the treadmill working out to ready for his start.
To his credit, Ortiz never allowed his disappointment to show when he learned that he wasn't in the original Division Series rotation that Braves manager Bobby Cox announced last week. Instead, he simply remained confident that he'd be given a chance to be a factor in this best-of-five series against the Astros.
"I learned early on in my career to be ready no matter what," Ortiz said. "It's not an excuse to have not pitched [for an extended period of time]. I haven't had a situation like this for a long time. But I had to make sure I was ready."
When Ortiz takes the hill against The Rocket, he'll be making his first start since he limited the Mets to two runs in seven innings on Sept. 29. If many of his previous starts had been like that one, he would have likely maintained his "ace" status and gotten a Game 1 start in the Division Series for the third straight year.
But Ortiz faltered down the stretch, going 2-3 with a 6.07 ERA in his final 10 regular-season starts. During that span, he surrendered 16 of the 23 homers that he allowed all season.
Still in his characteristic manner, Cox remained confident in Ortiz, who went 15-9 with a 4.13 ERA this year.
"Russ is a 15-game winner," Cox said. "He won 21 [games] last year. He pitched twice against the Astros [this year] and got beat 2-1 and 3-2. He pitched two really good ballgames."
Cox didn't announce Ortiz as his Game 4 starter until Friday because there was a chance he would have had to fill a long relief role for either Jaret Wright or Mike Hampton in the first two games. In addition, the veteran skipper had to make sure John Thomson, who has a slight muscle strain in his left side, would be available for Game 3.
That left Ortiz in the land of uncertainty. But now the veteran right-hander, who is 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA in five career Division Series starts, knows that he'll be starting a game which the Braves will either need to win to advance or to simply prolong their postseason lives.
"Every game is important," Ortiz said. "Everybody knows you have to win every game. So the pressure is already there. Any other pressure is there because you put it on yourself."
Ortiz has no need to feel pressure while pitching at Minute Maid Park. He's one of the few pitchers, who can claim he hasn't been victimized by the offense-friendly environment that the Astros' home park provides.
In four career starts at this stadium, which possesses a left-field corner that is only 315 feet from the plate, Ortiz is 3-0 with a 3.55 ERA. Most recently, he got a no-decision on Aug. 3 while limiting the Astros to two earned runs in seven innings.
"I've pitched pretty well here, not worrying about the short porch in left," Ortiz said. "It's the same as in Colorado. If you go in there worrying about not doing certain things, you're going to do them."
Jones boys like the Juice Box: With the grassy hill out in center field, there's reason for Andruw Jones not to like playing at Minute Maid Park. But when asked about playing in the Astros' stadium, which opened in 2000, the Gold Glove center fielder says he loves playing in Houston.
There's good reason that both of the Braves' Jones boys seem to enjoy playing in the hitter-friendly setting. Andruw has hit .347 (25-for-72) with six homers and a .639 slugging percentage during the regular season at Minute Maid. As for Chipper Jones, he's been even more impressive, hitting .420 with four homers and a .754 slugging percentage.
"What's not to like about it?" Chipper said. "It's a good park to hit in. What more can you say? It's got a good hitter's background and the park itself is appealing in left and right fields. It's a hitter's park in every sense of the word."
More cause for optimism regarding Chipper: While going hitless in his first eight at-bats of this Division Series, Chipper Jones has prolonged his recent postseason woes. In last year's playoff series against the Cubs, he had just three hits in 18 at-bats.
But Jones had reason to be optimistic while taking batting practice during Friday's workout. His bruised right hand has shown improvement, and more importantly, he had received some assistance from his father, Larry Wayne Jones Sr., earlier in the day.
The elder Jones, who was a collegiate baseball coach, lives on Chipper's Texas ranch, which is located approximately six hours from Houston. He and his wife, Lynne, drove to Houston on Friday. Shortly after his arrival, he was playing the role of hit doctor in the batting cage with his son.
"Today, he's the hit doctor," Chipper said. "Tonight, he's the ranch manager and we'll talk more about what's going to happen once the season ends."
While he was able to point out, as Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton has done over the past few days, that his son was closing his right shoulder when swinging from the left side, the elder Jones thinks his presence helps more than his instruction.
"I think it's just a moral support thing than it is anything else," the elder Jones said. "I think a lot of it is that he's happy that mom and dad are at the ballgame."
DeRosa honored with Chairman's Award: The Braves announced on Friday that they have selected Mark DeRosa as this year's recipient of their Chairman's Award. It's the second time in the past three years that he's received this honor, which recognizes him as a leader in the Braves' community outreach efforts.
A $5,000 check will be presented in DeRosa's name to Northside Hospital's Special Care Nursery. In addition, he'll receive a five-day trip to St. Andrews Bay in Scotland, compliments of Delta Air Lines and Chateau Elan.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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