FORT MYERS, Fla. Ramon Ortiz was an afterthought this winter in a whirlwind free-agent market, but the right-hander has been plenty reliable this spring for the Minnesota Twins.
Ortiz struck out four and gave up two unearned runs in four innings Thursday, pitching the Twins past the Baltimore Orioles 4-2.
Signed to a one-year, $3.1 million contract in late January, Ortiz has been solidifying his spot behind Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana in a rotation that is still unsettled.
His spring ERA is 0.75 after giving up three hits and one walk in Thursday's outing in front of a sellout crowd of 8,122 fans at Hammond Stadium.
"That's what I want to do every time. I want to throw the ball down," Ortiz said.
After two rough seasons in the NL, one with Cincinnati and one with Washington, Ortiz has been happy to be back in a league he's familiar with. He has repeatedly told reporters this spring how much he enjoys his new team and how much he loves baseball.
"I don't think about my position in the rotation," Ortiz said. "For me, it doesn't matter. Whether you're two or three or whatever, my day is when the manager gives me the ball. The more innings I pitch, the better I feel. You know what my best day is? My best day is when I get to throw the ball."
Said manager Ron Gardenhire: "We're trying not to put a number on them. We've got a ways to go. You can put a No. 1 on Santana. Nothing is a lock after Santana."
Ortiz beat the Twins in Game 2 of the 2002 AL Championship Series, but that's in the past for him.
"I don't want to think about beating Minnesota," Ortiz said. "I'm here now. I like this team, and I want to help this team get to the playoffs."
Orioles starter Adam Loewen is also having a solid spring. The 6-foot-5 left-hander, the fourth overall draft pick by Baltimore in 2002, struck out four in four innings while walking one and giving up two hits that included a solo homer by Michael Cuddyer.
"He looked excellent," Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone said of Loewen, who has a 2.25 spring ERA. "All of his starts have been good. He's pitching extremely well. He's ready to pitch in the big leagues."
A native Canadian who missed a large part of spring training last year to play in the World Baseball Classic, Loewen was confident he has progressed from last season when he started at Double-A Bowie.
Loewen went 6-6 with a 5.37 ERA for Baltimore after being called to the big leagues for good after the All-Star break.
"I'm a lot further along than I was last year," Loewen said. "With the World Baseball Classic, I really didn't have a chance to make the team."
Former Twins infielder Terry Tiffee went 1-for-3 for the Orioles. Jay Payton went 1-for-3 with an RBI in a two-run first inning against Ortiz, when second baseman Tommy Watkins committed an error that allowed Aubrey Huff to score.
Garrett Jones hit a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth for Minnesota to break the tie. Watkins made up for his miscue by hitting a sacrifice fly that scored Jones in the second and starting a game-ending double play in the field in the ninth.
Notes: Ken Harvey, a long-shot designated hitter candidate for the Twins, had knee surgery Thursday and will be out four to six weeks.