Compare and contrast:
Luis Gonzalez, 12/23/05: "I'll be the first one to tell you I suck, and last year, I had a bad year. The second half was horrible, and I know I have a lot to prove. But this will be my first healthy year in two years. Physically, I feel great. I'm ready to go."
Russ Ortiz, 2/19/06: "Why would I need to change? That's what I'm going to keep asking everybody from now on. Why should I feel like I need to redeem myself? Why should I feel the need to go back to the drawing board? I don't need to tweak anything or improve or modify."
Virtually the first step in managing and defeating any problem, is admitting that there is a problem. At the current time, it doesn't appear that Russ Ortiz is ready to take that step. "Why would I need to change?" he asks. Let's just review his pitching line from last year:
Russ Ortiz: 22 games, 5-11 record, 6.89 ERA
115 IP, 147 H, 65 BB, 46 K, 88 ER, 1.84 WHIP
That would seem to me, like Exhibits A through H for why he would "need to change".
Given there was hardly any aspect of his performance last year which was not appalling, and that he was paid more than $7m for the results, is it really asking too for him to take responsibility? A simple, humble "Sorry - I'll do better" would go a long way towards redeeming his credibility in the eyes of fans, who are the ones paying his monstrous salary, after all. The paragraphs which opened the piece are a perfect example of why Gonzo is loved throughout Arizona, while Russ is detested.
The story says that Ortiz is "one of the nicer, more easygoing gentlemen you'll find in the Diamondbacks' clubhouse", but that certainly doesn't appear to be the case going by the rest of the article. To be honest, Ortiz comes over as selfish and arrogant, a player content simply to pick up a fat pay-check, without putting in whatever effort is necessary to maintain an acceptable level of performance. It's like watching Marlon Brando roll his way through cinematic dreck like The Island of Dr. Moreau, a mere shadow of his former self.
Still, I'm prepared to give Ortiz the benefit of the doubt - albeit, in part, because as a fan there's no other option. And unlike Russ, the people around him are making all the right noises. New pitching coach Bryan Price, for example, says something that's in direct contradiction to the quote at the top of this article: "He's very open and honest about his shortcomings last year, and he's made it a point to work very hard and solve some of those issues." Issues? What issues?
But Price continues: "He's throwing the ball very, very well. There's nothing to suggest that he won't come back and pitch like the guy everybody knows from San Francisco and Atlanta. Last year, from what I saw, his tempo was so fast it wasn't allowing him an opportunity to be consistent. I think he's gotten back to being comfortable on the mound."
That's a sentiment echoed by catcher Johnny Estrada - and hopefully, it might help having someone to work with who has caught Ortiz before. Said Estrada, "The main thing that I could see with him is that he didn't seem comfortable. He had two rookie catchers and not only were they guys that had never been in the big leagues before, but for a guy like Russ, he had not thrown to them or formed a relationship with them."
Elsewhere on the pitching side, a couple of other disappointments from last year are more openly addressing their problems, rather than sticking their fingers in their ears and humming loudly. Price has spotted an issue with Mike Koplove's action: his head was coming up, causing his pitches to stay flat and break more slowly. "It looks like he has the potential to get back to where he was and go beyond," says Price, which would certainly help the bullpen.
Randy Choate, too, is experimenting with pitching out of the windup to rectify problems in his mechanics. And even Terry Mulholland - the third oldest man currently signed in the NL (and would trail just Jeff Fassero, if only someone would drive a stake through Julio Franco's heart) - is not immune to changes. Last year, he adjusted his position on the rubber, and it seemed to help him get lefties out (he kept them to a .202 average). All of which begs the question, why is it so hard for Ortiz to admit his imperfections?