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Ortiz Dazzles in His Debut With Angels

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Into the stench of this Angel season came more than a breath of fresh air Thursday. This was a whole oxygen tank’s worth, delivered by a spindly youngster from the Dominican Republic with a booming fastball.

Ramon Ortiz, all 6 feet, 165 pounds of him, was everything the Angels had hoped he would be in his long-anticipated major league debut, limiting the Chicago White Sox to one run on four hits in eight innings of the Angels’ 9-2 victory before 14,171 in Comiskey Park.

The Angels had heard so much about Ortiz, the organization’s best pitching prospect--how he generates astonishing power despite his slight stature, how he has a nasty slider and an improving changeup, how he’s mature beyond his 23 years, how he has been compared to Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez.

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Thursday, he became the first Angel this season to live up to expectations.

“I kept thinking, ‘This must be what it’s like to play behind a guy like Pedro,’ ” right fielder Tim Salmon said. “He was just mowing them down. No one was getting good swings off him. It was a great feeling.”

Ortiz’s fastball, as advertised, hit 95 mph consistently, and his sliders, late-breaking pitches that often swept from the middle of the plate to six inches outside, were clocked at 85-89 mph.

His changeup isn’t quite as devastating as Martinez’s--the Red Sox ace, remember, didn’t develop his killer changeup until he had been in the big leagues a few years--but at 85 mph with some sink, Ortiz’s changeup was only 10 mph slower than his fastball.

Ortiz wasn’t quite as dominant as Martinez is in most starts--he struck out only three--but the right-hander walked only one, and of his 97 pitches, 66 were strikes. No White Sox runner reached second base until the seventh.

“One game doesn’t make him a Pedro Martinez, but he has the potential to be right there,” shortstop Gary DiSarcina said. “I don’t think it’s fair to put pressure on a guy by saying he’s going to be the next Roger Clemens, the next Randy Johnson. Ramon is his own man. But if he keeps the same mentality, he’s going to be fine.”

The comparisons with Martinez aren’t only because both are slight, hail from the Dominican Republic and are demolition experts. Like Martinez, Ortiz brings enormous energy to the mound, a vitality his teammates seemed to feed off Thursday.

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“He’s a lot of fun to play behind,” DiSarcina said. “He barely gets off the rubber [between pitches], he throws strikes, he’s energetic--it’s refreshing.”

First baseman Mo Vaughn played with Martinez last season in Boston and had a few flashbacks.

“I call him little Pedro,” Vaughn said of Ortiz. “He was just flying out there today. A lot of times, a new guy will come up and look good for two or three innings, but the real mark of a good pitcher is the second and third time through the order. He was still making guys miss.

“He threw the ball well and stayed composed. A lot of their guys told me he had great movement, that balls were starting over the middle and moving outside. It’s good to see for this team, especially for next year. He’s going to help.”

Manager Terry Collins had a sense he was about to see something special after Ortiz’s first pitch, a fastball that made catcher Ben Molina’s mitt pop and batter Ray Durham’s eyes bulge.

“Ray took the first pitch, stepped out of the box, looked at his first base coach and said, ‘Wow!’ ” Collins said. “I don’t know if it’s fair to compare him to Pedro, but he has outstanding stuff.

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“You watch him bounce around the field, back up bases on fly balls--it’s really fun to watch him, and I’m glad we scored enough runs where every inning wasn’t do-or-die for him.”

Molina had a home run, two singles and four runs batted in, and the Angels built a lead with three runs in each of the fourth and fifth innings. Vaughn hit a two-run homer in the sixth, and Troy Glaus homered off his former UCLA teammate, Jim Parque, in the fourth. That was more than enough for Ortiz.

“Hopefully this is something we’ll see a lot of,” Collins said. “Once the initial impact wears off and he goes through the league a few times, we’ll find out more about him. But this was obviously a nice start.”

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