SAN FRANCISCO -- Between relieving and starting, between the Giants and Triple-A, Russ Ortiz has spent most of the 2007 season in limbo and he's ready to get out. Hopefully as a Giants starter. Ortiz made his second rehab start Saturday night, this time for the Class A San Jose Giants. He allowed two unearned runs on two hits and one walk in four innings, striking out five batters. Ortiz made his first start for Triple-A Fresno on Monday, throwing four shutout innings while striking out three, and as he fell back into the familiar routine, it reminded him of his early-season priorities. "That's why I came here, to start," Ortiz said.More
Ortiz was doing a pretty good job of it, too. He posted a 2-1 record with a 4.50 ERA in April before he was sent to the disabled list with right elbow neuritis after a May 1 start. When he returned to the Giants, it was as a reliever, and he landed on the DL again, this time with a forearm strain, on June 7. Some guys love the everyday playing time they see in the bullpen, but not Ortiz. He's been a starter for most of his Major League career, and he would prefer to continue on that path. He likes the routine he falls into on a five-day rotation. He likes the preparation and excitement leading up to each start. He likes to come into each game with a plan that he will unveil over multiple innings, not just one. Most of all, he just likes to throw that first pitch. "That's the great thing about starting," Ortiz said. "The game doesn't start until you throw the ball. You set the tempo, and the goal is to allow your teammates to get back in the dugout as soon as possible." This is not to say that Ortiz doesn't appreciate relievers or realize how much skill it takes to come in with runners on base and the game on the line. When it comes down to it, Ortiz would rather be relieving for one inning than not playing at all. There is currently no spot for Ortiz in the rotation, but if one opens up, he is ready. It is unclear whether Ortiz will come back as a starter or reliever, but each rehab start he makes brings him closer to the goal he started out with. Sweet hit Sweeney: Pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney has arguably the toughest job in baseball. Sure, he gets plenty of time to relax, but when Sweeney is called in to hit, the pressure is on. There are no warmup strikeouts and no second or third chances. Sweeney gets just one at-bat to prove himself every day, and he did for the 151st time Friday night. "He's always ready. You look down at him and he knows what the situation is and he's sitting there waiting, and I'm proud of him," Bochy said. When Sweeney slapped an RBI single in the sixth inning Friday and took over sole possession of second on the all-time pinch-hit list from Manny Mota, the standing ovation he received was almost as big as the one Barry Bonds received for home run No. 754. "It's pretty humbling because it's Manny Mota and I think the world of him. I would have been happy just tying him because it's a huge achievement," Sweeney said. Next on the pinch-hit list is Lenny Harris, who holds the all-time record with 212. "I'm going to stick around as long as I can. I've been resting my whole career, so I think I'm fine," Sweeney said. D-Train comes home: Saturday's starting pitcher for Florida, Dontrelle Willis, has been studying Bonds for a long time. He was watching Bonds long before he realized he would someday be facing him. Growing up in Oakland, Bonds was his favorite player, and Willis remembers the cold nights at Candlestick Park well. "He was one of the few players that could see three pitches in a weekend and get three home runs," Willis said. Willis has followed Bonds through slumps and injuries and said he always sees the same devotion day in and out. What Bonds is now doing, at the age of 43, impresses Willis even more. "A man over 40 -- I just hope I can walk over 40, let alone go in there and do what he's done." Willis' Saturday vantage point was decidedly better than his old view from the right-field seats at Candlestick, but Bonds' swing is still just as dangerous and Willis planned to come at him with everything he has. Willis has bested Bonds so far by managing to stay out of the slugger's home run club that now boasts 444 pitchers. Becoming pitcher 445 would also make Willis the guy who gave up home run No. 755 to Bonds. Willis said he wanted to see Bonds hit it, but he probably meant on TV instead of in person. Alfonzo close: Catcher Eliezer Alfonzo is scheduled to head to Arizona after Sunday's game for his first rehabilitation assignment since undergoing surgery on May 18. Alfonzo hopes to be doing some light bullpen catching and designated hitting by the middle of the week. Once ready to catch a full game, he will report to Triple-A Fresno. Alfonzo is eligible for activation from the disabled list on Aug. 8. Big numbers: The 12-10 win Friday night was Giants' highest scoring game since Sept. 22, 2006 (a 13-12 loss at Milwaukee) and the highest scoring game in AT&T Park since Sept. 3, 2004 (an 18-7 win over Arizona). Marathon madness: Giants fans should expect minor traffic delays Sunday because of the San Francisco Marathon. Most streets will be closed only in the morning, but leave early just in case. On deck: The Giants will close out their homestand with a third game against the Marlins at 1:05 p.m. PT on Sunday. Matt Morris (7-6, 4.16 ERA) will make the start against Sergio Mitre (4-5, 3.34).
Becky Regan is an associate reporter at MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less