O's set to sign starter Ortiz


Free-agent starter Russ Ortiz flew to Baltimore yesterday evening to sign a contract with the Orioles.

Ortiz will make a prorated portion of the minimum major league salary, $327,000, and is expected to start for the Orioles immediately.

Orioles vice president Jim Duquette noted Ortiz's long record of success (108 career wins) and said the Orioles are intrigued to see whether he can get back on track under Leo Mazzone. Ortiz posted his lone 20-win season while working with Mazzone in Atlanta.

"We know he's comfortable with Leo," Duquette said. "That's the selling point for us."

Duquette said the Orioles told Ortiz he would start for them right away. But he said it wasn't clear if the veteran would displace struggling rookie Adam Loewen from the rotation.

The Arizona Diamondbacks released Ortiz last week. They still owe him about $22 million on the four-year, $33 million deal he signed before last season.

Ortiz, 32, was once an effective workhorse for the San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves. 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. He allowed more than two base runners per inning this season.

At least five teams showed an interest in Ortiz, but Mazzone's presence made the Orioles most attractive.

"I think it is probably the perfect fit," said Ortiz's agent, John Boggs. "I believe that Russ still has a lot of great pitching ahead of him. The bottom line is I think it's the right team for Russ. That's why from the very beginning, we had our eyes on the Orioles and I am very happy that it looks like it is going to work in the direction."

Gibbons aims for All-Star break

Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons, who is on the disabled list with an injured knee, said he hopes to return after the All-Star break.

The injury, a tear in the posterior cruciate ligament of his right knee, has had him on and off the disabled list since May 27. Gibbons is hitting every day but can't run. His recovery has taken longer than expected, but he said his primary concern is not re-injuring his knee.

"Another setback and you could be looking into shooting [for] August," he said. "So I'm just hoping I can get this thing where I don't feel it and just go out and perform."

He suffered the injury May 26 in Los Angeles when he ran into the outfield wall. After an original 15-day stay on the disabled list, Gibbons returned June 12 but aggravated his injury the next day and hasn't played since.

Gibbons doesn't regret trying to come back, but this time he wants to make sure he's ready to make a full return to the field.

"We can't fool around with this much longer," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We've lost him long enough, so when he comes back this time, we're hoping he's going to be ready to go."

Gibbons will travel to Los Angeles this week to continue rehabilitating his knee at a training center he and Brian Roberts have used before.

"I think they really know what they're doing," Gibbons said. "And I want to go somewhere I can trust them and also just get my mind away from things and not try to rush back, and that's why I'm leaving the team."

Markakis still adjusting

Outfielder Nick Markakis scored a run and went 2-for-3 in Friday's series-opening win against the Washington Nationals, but Perlozzo said the rookie still needs to find more consistency in his hitting approach.

"He's still learning how to hit in the big leagues," Perlozzo said, adding that though Markakis impresses during batting practice, he has been unable to make the complete transition to game performance.

Markakis has batted .313 over his past 10 games but was slugging only .316 entering yesterday.

"It's just one of those things, you do it in practice, you do it in practice and the only thing that's left is for you to transfer it into a ballgame, and that hasn't quite happened yet," Perlozzo said. "When you can do it on a consistent basis in batting practice, one day it's going to happen. You just don't know what day that's going to be." childs.walker@baltsun.com katie.carrera@baltsun.com

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