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Russ is rested and ready10/09/2004 12:40 AM ET
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
HOUSTON -- With 212 career starts and 103 total victories under his belt, Russ Ortiz shouldn't be bothered by pitching on 10 days' rest.
Before encountering a rough patch in the second half, Ortiz was regarded as the Braves' ace. Now, he has fallen to their fourth starter. But he has a proven track record, compiling a 99-56 record since 1999, and is playoff tested.
A 21-game winner a year ago, Ortiz's 77 total wins since the 2000 All-Star break are the most of any National League pitcher.
The Braves will send Ortiz to the mound on Sunday in Game 4 of their Division Series with the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Manager Bobby Cox is undaunted that Ortiz last started on Sept. 29, beating the Mets, 6-3, while tossing seven solid innings. The layoff will only be a factor if the starter allows it to be.
"Well, it's like [Greg] Maddux when I asked him that question once," Cox said. "He had over 10 days [off]. He said, 'Bobby, I'm not going to forget how to pitch.' "
A rested Ortiz, who was an inconsistent 15-9 with a 4.13 ERA, squares off rock-solid Roger Clemens, the Game 1 winner going on three days' rest.
"I haven't really thought about the duration of time in between my last start and tomorrow," Ortiz said. "So it hasn't really affected me that way. I haven't really thought about it at all. I haven't felt like it's been that long."
While not as acclaimed as Clemens, Ortiz is accustomed to the postseason. He is 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA in five Division Series starts.
With the Giants in 2002, the right-hander started Game 6 of the World Series and was in line for the victory when he was relieved in the seventh inning. The Angels rallied to win that game, and ultimately took the series.
So facing a legend like Clemens in a hostile park shouldn't be a factor.
"I think Russ has won more games the last five years than any other starter," Cox said. "He won 21 games last year, he won 15 this year. Those are great numbers to have. Pitchers always struggle some. He picked the time in the year to struggle a little bit. In between those struggles, I think he threw a [three-hit] shutout in Montreal, and pitched a great game. I look for Russ, the way I've seen him on the side the last few times, to really pitch a good game."
Still, opposing Clemens adds to the drama on Sunday.
"Before the game, after the game, it's an exciting thing to think about when you face someone like Roger, to see what he's done throughout his career and what he's still doing," Ortiz said. "It's an exciting thing to think about. But once the game comes, I'm just concentrating on the hitters and not worried about what he's doing on his side. Because if I start to do that, I think I'm going to try to go out there and, if he's throwing real well, I'm going to try to do what he's doing, instead of just concentrating on making my pitches and worry about getting our team back into the dugout as soon as possible."
Ortiz's season has been a sequence of highs and lows.
In July, he was lights out, going 5-0 in six starts with a 1.67 ERA. He was named National League Pitcher of the Month. But in his final 12 starts, he was 3-3 with a 6.11 ERA, giving up 17 home runs in 66 1/3 innings.
Before the All-Star break, he was 10-6 with a 3.58 ERA.
To stay sharp since the layoff, Ortiz has thrown several bullpen side sessions. Most recently, he took the mound on Friday and looked sharp.
Cox watched closely and was impressed.
"I think it's always location with the pitcher," Cox said. "If they're hitting their spots, they're going to throw a good ballgame and keep you in the game. If they miss their spots, no matter how hard you throw, if you miss spots consistently, you're going to get banged around a little bit. Russ was hitting his spots a lot better."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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