OAKLAND, Calif. - The Yankees' stock of potential fill-in starters in the minors decreased by one yesterday. Russ Ortiz, who had been signed by the Yankees and assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after he was released by the Astros on July 30, exercised his right to become a free agent.

Ortiz, 35, released by the Astros after going 3-6 with a 5.57 ERA in 13 starts, had that right if the Yankees did not promote him after he made three starts for Scranton. He went 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in those starts. The Yankees' preference was to hang on to Ortiz, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi said promoting him was never seriously discussed.

"His name came up that he had three starts," Girardi said. "We talked about it, Cash and I, but we weren't really close to bringing him up, no."

Ortiz won 99 games in a six-year span for the Giants and Braves (1999-2004). His agent, John Boggs, told foxsports.com that he wants to be part of a contender and pitch in the postseason.


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Extra bases

Derek Jeter started at DH last night for the fourth time this season. "Just a little breather to make sure he stays strong," Girardi said . . . Girardi said regular DH Hideki Matsui didn't do anything Mondayother than receive treatment on his left knee, which was drained Sunday in Seattle. He said Matsui still is day-to-day and that he hopes to have him available Tuesday night. . . Brett Gardner, on the disabled list since July 26 with a fractured left thumb, will meet with the doctor Wednesday. Once the centerfielder gets the go-ahead to play, Girardi said "it shouldn't be too long" before he returns. Girardi said Gardner first will get some rehab at-bats in the minors. Girardi said Sept. 1 in Seattle is a realistic target date for Gardner's return . . . The Yankees signed their first-round draft pick, outfielder Slade Heathcott, for just over $2 million, about $1 million more than MLB's recommended bonus for his 29th draft spot. The team also came to terms with its second-round pick, catcher J.R. Murphy.