Originally created 03/04/03

Ortiz's first outing gives Atlanta hope



KISSIMMEE, Fla. - As debuts go, Russ Ortiz couldn't have ordered a better one.

Facing an Astros lineup filled with regulars, the Braves righthander looked ready for opening day in Monday's 5-2 loss at Osceola County Stadium. He pitched two scoreless innings, faced the minimum six batters, and gave up one single. Jeff Kent, Ortiz's former teammate with the Giants, had the only hit, which was followed by Richard Hidalgo's double-play grounder in the second.

"I was able to throw strikes, get a good rhythm and not feel like I was putting a lot of effort into every single pitch," said Ortiz, the No. 3 starter in manager Bobby Cox's spring rotation. "I'm real pleased with how things have started off."

Ortiz kept his pitches down, showed off a live fastball, and had good command. He made a good first impression on Cox.

"He was real sharp," Cox said. "He looked good."

Ortiz credited pitching coach Leo Mazzone's throwing program for his readiness. Usually, he's not this sharp early in camp because the Giants don't ask their pitchers to face hitters right away, as the Braves do in batting practice. Working against hitters, Ortiz said, sharpened his control.

"The biggest thing here is they make sure you get on the mound," he said. "That's helped me develop a rhythm that much quicker. My mechanics are a little unorthodox compared to other guys, so I have to have the right timing or my location suffers."

WHO'S ON SECOND?: Javy Lopez knocked in a run with a single in the fourth, but he didn't receive high marks for his baserunning later in the inning. He slid into second on Ramon Castro's fielder's choice and, thinking he was out, trotted toward the dugout. What he failed to notice was that Astros second baseman Kent dropped the ball and he was called safe. Pitcher Kirk Saarloos ran over and tagged him out.

RUN SUPPORT: With Rafael Furcal nursing a sprained ankle, Darren Bragg was penciled into the leadoff spot and responded with a pair of hits. Marcus Giles hit No. 2 and had two singles, but the Braves managed just five other hits and took their first Grapefruit League loss.

BOO BOOS and OWIES: Cox indicated that Chipper Jones probably won't play until Thursday. Jones, who sprained his left thumb making a diving catch in Friday's Grapefruit League opener, does not have an at-bat yet.

"I told him let's let it heal 100 percent before we do anything," Cox said. "If he gets jammed and aggravates it again he could be out for the start of the season. We've got to use some common sense. It's not like we're going down the stretch here with three games to go."

Furcal, who sprained his ankle when he slid over second base in Sunday's game, probably won't play for several days.

PLAY BALL: Former umpire Rich Rieker and the Braves reviewed a 14-minute video Monday morning detailing baseball's latest attempt to speed up games. Players were told that umpires will crack down this season on pitchers and hitters wasting time between pitches.

"There was nothing (in the video) that can't be abided by," Cox said. "They want the pitchers and hitters ready to pitch and ready to hit."