- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Washington Nationals attempted to solidify their pitching rotation yesterday by signing free agent right-hander Ramon Ortiz to a one-year, $2.5 million deal and right-hander Tony Armas Jr. to a one-year, $2.1 million contract.

With these signings, the Nationals’ starting rotation appears just about set for the upcoming season. Ortiz and Armas join a group of starters that includes Livan Hernandez, John Patterson, Brian Lawrence and Ryan Drese.

Ortiz, a seven-year veteran, pitched last season for the Cincinnati Reds and went 9-11 with a 5.36 ERA in 30 starts. Nationals general manager Jim Bowden said Ortiz could become the Nationals’ No. 3 starter.

“He’ll be somewhere after Hernandez and Patterson. Whether it will be three, four or five, we’ll have to see,” Bowden said. “He had a rough year, but in the second half he pitched pretty well. This guy’s history is that he makes a lot of starts and throws a lot of innings.”

Armas, meanwhile, struggled through an injury-plagued season last year with the Nationals but managed to go 7-7 with a 4.97 ERA in 19 starts. Armas did not pitch after Sept. 1 because of right-shoulder discomfort and underwent a procedure called a posterior capsule release Sept. 28.

Shoulder problems have hampered the 27-year-old Armas for the better part of the last three seasons. He missed almost all of 2003 after undergoing rotator cuff surgery. In 2004, Armas began the season on the disabled list because of the surgery and went 2-4 with a 4.88 ERA in 16 starts.

Last season, Armas fared much better at RFK (5-1, 3.25 ERA) than he did on the road.

Ortiz and Armas weren’t the coveted free agent pitchers the Nationals had atop their shopping list. But given the astronomical salaries handed out to pitchers this offseason, both come as bargains.

The 32-year-old Ortiz has a career 68-60 record with a 4.72 ERA in 187 games (167 starts). He made a name for himself pitching parts of six seasons for the Anaheim Angels. His best year was 2002, when he went 15-9 with a 3.77 ERA and helped the Angels win their first World Series.

“He has a history of success,” Bowden said of Ortiz. “His fastball is in the low 90s, a decent breaking ball. He has three pitches that he throws with a changeup.”

The Nationals are hoping Ortiz can become this season’s version of Esteban Loaiza, whom the Nationals signed despite a disastrous 10-game stint with the New York Yankees in 2004. Bowden gambled Loaiza would return to his form from 2003, when he won 21 games for the White Sox.

Bowden’s hunch paid off as Loaiza went 12-10 with a 3.77 ERA for the Nationals last season. Last month, Loaiza signed a three-year, $21 million free agent deal with Oakland — too pricey for the cash-strapped, ownerless Nationals.

“You have to take chances on guys like Loaiza and Ortiz,” Bowden said.

Ortiz allowed 34 home runs last season, the fourth most in the National League. Bowden believes the spacious confines of RFK Stadium will drop that number significantly from Cincinnati’s hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark. RFK yielded 112 home runs last year, the second fewest in the National League.



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