Fans have seen David Ortiz homer in Fort Myers many times over the years. And Ortiz didn’t disappoint in his final game here.
The retiring Red Sox slugger came to the plate in the fifth inning against the Twins on Thursday at Hammond Stadium, and, on a 3-1 pitch from Kyle Gibson, hit a towering drive into the seats in right for his first home run of spring training. Gibson threw a fastball in on Ortiz’s hands, but Ortiz got around on it anyway.
Ortiz also went down swinging against Gibson, who pointed out he also will be the last pitcher to strike him out in Fort Myers.
“He pulled his hands in and hit a pretty decent pitch, for a 3-1 pitch,” said Gibson, who gave up four runs over five innings. “I didn’t think it caught too much of the plate.”
As he has played only for the Twins and Red Sox as a big-leaguer, Ortiz has been attending spring training in Fort Myers for 20 seasons. When he walked to the plate in the second inning, a special announcement was made to highlight his career achievements. Most of the announced crowd of 7,358 rose to give him a standing ovation, and Ortiz tipped his helmet in appreciation.
“These are Fort Myers fans that support the Twins, support the Red Sox, and I’ve been here for a while,” Ortiz told the Associated Press. “I bet you a lot of these people watched me playing when I played for the Miracle down here [in 1997]. I’m pretty sure they’re super happy with how my career has gone.”
Slow and slower
Twins lefthander Fernando Abad looked ready for the season with a scoreless inning Thursday. It was highlighted by a changeup to Nick Longhi that registered 65 miles per hour on the stadium radar gun.
Abad confirmed that he can throw an offspeed pitch that slow. “Super changeup,” Abad said of the pitch, which was eephus-like.
Longhi, who was at Class A Greenville last year, was well out in front as he swung and missed. Abad then threw a 92 mph fastball by him for a strikeout.
Righthander Nick Burdi, the Twins’ top relief prospect, will start the season on the disabled list because of right forearm tightness.
Burdi was shut down for a few days last week, and the club believes the rest helped him recover. But the Twins are going to slowly build him back up before they let him begin his minor league season, and he figures to be sidelined for two weeks.
The Twins were going to start Burdi at Class AA Chattanooga when the injury was diagnosed.
This spring, Burdi showed a fastball that hit 99 mph on the radar gun and a biting slider, but he left pitches up in the strike zone too often. Still, he didn’t seem to be far away from his shot at the majors.
Michael Tonkin and Tommy Milone will stay in Fort Myers to get work in before joining the Twins in Baltimore for Opening Day. Tonkin, who is being stretched out for long relief, will pitch Saturday in a minor league game. Milone will start a game Sunday.
Phil Hughes will start Friday as the Twins close exhibition play with the first of two games at Washington. Tanner Roark will start for the Nationals, who also play host to the Twins in an interleague series April 22-24.
La Velle E. Neal III