Notes: Ortiz moved into bullpen
Righty welcomes opportunity, hopeful to get on track
ST. PETERSBURG -- Russ Ortiz lost his spot in the rotation but retained the benefit of the doubt on Saturday, when the Orioles elected to move him into the bullpen. Ortiz had struggled in each of his four starts as an Oriole, but things reached a new low point Friday, when he faced six batters in the first inning and didn't get any outs.
Still, instead of getting released for the second time this season, Ortiz survived another day on a big-league roster. The veteran got called onto the carpet by Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo, but he came back with hope intact.
"If they feel like that's going to help me and that's the best way to help the team in the long run, hey, I can't really say much about it -- except I will do whatever he wants me to do," Ortiz said. "They have given me a great opportunity here and at no time have I been greedy at all.
"I am a realistic person and I understand that the starts I have made haven't been great. So we talked about it."
Perlozzo's perspective was simple. The Orioles get a well-placed day off on Monday and won't need a fifth starter until July 29th, which gave the manager an easy out. Ortiz likely would've been the odd man out even if he had pitched well on Friday, but after that game, there was really no other choice.
"If we can get him coming out of the 'pen -- maybe pitching a good inning here or a good inning there -- we'll see if we can't get him on the right track a little bit," Perlozzo said. "He'll know he doesn't have to worry about going six or seven innings, either. ... We need a couple good outings out of Russ, so that mentally, he gets on the right track.
"At that point in time, we'll find out if he's a pitcher or not."
Ortiz said he broke into the big leagues as a reliever, but he also said he doesn't have much experience in that role. The veteran said he'd been removed from the rotation one other time, but that exile only lasted one start. Now, he knows that his Baltimore tenure may depend on a quick transition.
The Orioles have Daniel Cabrera and Hayden Penn in Triple-A Ottawa, and both will likely be starting for Baltimore by early August. The O's may wind up releasing Ortiz, but for now, that's the furthest thing from his mind.
"The whole time I have been here, it's been great. They've made me feel very comfortable," he said. "And I feel like I can come every day and work on the things I need to work on to get better. And that's what I have been doing. The results havent been there, but I didn't feel any anxiety whatsoever. I am doing the best I can at this point in time.
"I'm working as hard as I can. I know it's a struggle I'm going through, and I believe I can get out of it."
Back in action: Javy Lopez missed four games with a sore back, but he was in the lineup Saturday and penciled in at catcher. Lopez said he could've played with the injury but thought it made more sense to wait it out.
"It's not perfectly fine, but it's good enough to be able to play. Definitely. And, of course, it will get better," he said. "I wanted to play every day. I've missed enough playing time already this year. I didn't want to miss any more, but unfortunately, that happened, and I didn't have any choice but to miss a few games."
The three-time All-Star said he treated his back with ice, steam and ultrasound. He also said that he needed anti-inflammatory pills to bring down the swelling. The Orioles put him through batting practice on Friday to check the effects of the injury, and Lopez also caught in between innings to help warm up Baltimore's pitchers.
With Lopez in the lineup, Perlozzo could give a day off to regular backstop Ramon Hernandez. The catcher took a foul ball off his collarbone Friday night, and Perlozzo wanted to give him some extra time to heal.
"You take a look at his right shoulder and he's got five or six bruises up there. But I wouldn't hesitate to use him at all," he said. "We have a couple days off coming up here, so I'm not as concerned. ... When it's hot like that -- like it was last homestand -- I think it's important that you not wear him down."
Good as new: Erik Bedard was given a clean bill of health Saturday, and appears set to start Sunday's series finale. Bedard missed Friday's game with a case of food poisoning.
"We feel like there will be no limitations tomorrow. That's kind of what we were trying to get accomplished," Perlozzo said. "I didn't want to have it on my mind. After six innings, do I have to worry about his condition? There are going to be no limitations on him. We'll just let him go, like it never happened."
Pick a number: Reliever Kurt Birkins changed his number Saturday, going from No. 56 to No. 25. The latter number was vacant for most of the season but became available Friday, when Howie Clark was optioned to Triple-A Ottawa.
"I've had that number since high school. I didn't even know it was available. I thought it was going to be retired for [Rafael] Palmeiro," Birkins said. "They're already giving me a hard time about how I could switch now, when I'm pitching well.
"I'm not that superstitious."
Quotable: "His mindset is that he came here to help the team. And he wants to do anything he can to help the team. And that's perfectly fine. If he can help the club out coming out of the 'pen for a while, he's more than happy to do that." -- Perlozzo, talking about Ortiz and the mature way he handled disappointing news
Coming up: The Orioles and Devil Rays will play a 1:15 ET series finale matinee on Sunday, a game that pits Bedard against Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.