Notes: Ortiz happy to be back in AL
Twins right-hander transitions back to his preferred league
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ramon Ortiz had one goal in mind this offseason, and it was to return to the American League.The past two seasons had been difficult for Ortiz after he moved over to the National League. Ortiz compiled a 20-27 record and 5.47 ERA during that span with Cincinnati and Washington, so it would be easy to understand why a switch back to the AL would seem so enticing for the right-hander, who had a 59-49 record during parts of six seasons with the Angels. But Ortiz's reasoning for the return had less to do with his pitching stats and more to do with another aspect of his game. "I don't like to hit," Ortiz said. "For me, both leagues are the same, pitching-wise, but the only problem I have with the National League is that I don't like hitting." His decision to switch leagues was one of the topics Ortiz addressed Saturday as he finally made his debut at Twins camp. Ortiz was a late arrival due to troubles he had obtaining a visa in his native Dominican Republic. The right-hander missed the first five days of practice for pitchers and catchers and didn't get to camp until the first day of full-squad workouts. Ortiz's prolonged absence in camp became a source of fodder around the clubhouse, so when the pitcher did indeed arrive, it was enough to earn him a special welcoming party. "We made our own introduction for him this morning saying, 'A special welcome to Mr. Ortiz, glad you could make it,'" Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said with a chuckle. "But he thinks he's probably in better shape than all these guys and he looks like it, too. He was excited. He looks like he's bouncing around pretty good and he's ready to go." It didn't take long for Ortiz to get going on his work, throwing his first side session Saturday. Pitching coach Rick Anderson seemed impressed by what he saw. Earlier in the week, Anderson said that one thing he would like Ortiz to work on is changing speeds a bit more. And it seems Ortiz is open to the idea. "Every team you go to is different because every pitching coach is different," Ortiz said. "But I'm going to try to do everything he teaches to me, because you know, I hear from everybody that he is a good pitching coach. All the pitchers work well here. I'll try to follow him 100 percent because I want to be good." Ortiz said that at least seven teams showed interest in him during this past offseason but when it came to choosing a team, Ortiz relied mostly on looking at teams that he thought would have a good chance at making the postseason. And he felt the Twins fit that profile.
"I never thought of [going to Minnesota] in my mind, but when my agent told me about it, I said, 'It's a good team,'" Ortiz said. "Everybody plays hard and everybody plays together here. That's what I'm looking for."When you sign with someone, you want to go to the playoffs and win games. My last two years, I played for teams that did not go to the playoffs. I want to win games and help my team go to the playoffs. Those are the best things." Sad departure: The Twins' excitement for the first day of full-squad workouts was tempered by some tragic news they received early Saturday morning. Jackson Mijares, brother of left-handed Twins pitching prospect Jose Mijares, was shot and killed Friday night at a bar in his hometown of Caracas, Venezuela. Two other family members were also shot and wounded in the incident. Jose Mijares left camp to travel back home and spend time with his family. The team addressed the situation before practice.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Jose and his family," Gardenhire said. "We know it's not going to be easy. It's a very tough situation for our ballclub to deal with, but hopefully this puts things in perspective for people."What a pain: Saturday's workout went smoothly for the Twins, except for one minor injury. Matt Garza threw his first session of live batting practice and in the midst of it, felt a slight pain in his upper neck. The problem was diagnosed as a mild strain, but Garza shouldn't miss any time. "He said he felt something high in his neck that was making it hard to turn and throw the ball," Gardenhire said. "But he should be fine." And there's always one: Every year, there is at least one Twins hitter who gets the distinction of being the first to be tagged with a pitch. Mike Redmond joked with Garza before practice began that he didn't want to get the "heater" in his back, but Redmond didn't have to worry. Instead, it was outfield prospect Denard Span who was hit with a curveball on his backside by pitcher Ricky Barrett. The pitch got away from Barrett, but its timing was a tad ironic as it came after Span had delivered the blast of the day, a homer over the center-field fence. Quotable: "That guy can flat-out hit. He can really hit. But stealing bases, no. It's like [Justin] Morneau's goal to play second base -- these are two things that may not happen. I won't say never, but they may not happen this year. -- Gardenhire, on the chances of Redmond swiping a bag this year (Redmond has one stolen base in 8 Major League seasons)
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.