Ortiz shines in Twins debut

Ortiz shines in Twins debut

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins had needed their closer Joe Nathan to save the first two games of the season against the Orioles.

So there was some concern for the Twins before Wednesday's game whether Nathan would be able to make it to the Metrodome in time to finish the game if needed with his wife due to deliver their second child.

It turns out that the Twins made sure his presence wouldn't be needed.

The Twins' bats delivered 11 hits on the night, and Ramon Ortiz delivered a stellar first start for the club to keep the team far away from any save situation in a 7-2 victory over the Orioles at the Metrodome.

"We scored some runs and got some good pitching," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after the win. "We gave Nathan a chance to witness the birth of his daughter, Riley, so that's nice."

Nathan's wife Lisa had gone in early Wednesday morning to induce labor, and it became a ticking time clock to see if Nathan would indeed be able to arrive in time for the game as the birth had not occurred by the start of the game.

The original plan had been for Nathan to follow the progress of the game at the hospital, and if he was needed in a close game, he would drive back to the Metrodome in time to pitch the ninth inning. But with the game unavailable due to the fact that the hospital carried DirectTV and the feed for FSN North had been lost, Nathan instead had to rely on Twins media relations director Mike Herman for updates. That is until Nathan found a radio to listen to the game.

Eventually, the TV in the hospital regained the feed, and Nathan said that he was able to follow the rest of the game, even when the delivery actually began, as Lisa wanted to keep the TV on to see how the club was doing.

"It was kind of weird to not be here and watching the game," Nathan said. "But I was able to watch even through the delivery and see what was going on."

What Nathan got to witness on TV was a stellar performance from one of the Twins' newest acquisitions. It was a dominant outing for Ortiz in the final game of the series as he pitched seven innings, allowing just two runs on five hits and striking out four. His lone walk of the game came in the first inning.

"He was wonderful out there," Gardenhire said of Ortiz. "He was using all of his pitches, throwing the ball in and out. He attacks the hitters, and doesn't back away too many times. It was what we had hoped to see."

But while Ortiz was great, it was command problems by O's starter Jaret Wright that helped aide the Twins' offensive attack. Wright walked five batters in his 2 1/3 innings of work. The right-hander gave up a total of six runs -- four earned -- on four hits with just one strikeout.

Most of those runs came in the third, as the Twins scored five runs off Wright, but it was the final two of the inning that really put a dagger in the victory. Three runs had already scored thanks to a Michael Cuddyer RBI single to left field and a two-run single by Rondell White when Luis Castillo came up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs in the inning. On a 3-2 count, Castillo hit a high fly ball into foul territory down the left-field line that appeared would get the O's out of the inning unscathed. But Orioles left fielder Jay Gibbons dropped the ball and extended Castillo's at-bat.

Castillo then delivered a chopper to shortstop Miguel Tejada that bounced past his glove and scored another two runs, giving the Twins a 6-0 lead.

"They made a couple of mistakes and we made them pay for it," Gardenhire said.

Defensive problems might have been evident for the Orioles as they tallied three errors on the day, but for the Twins, it was all about making key catches when needed.

Despite Ortiz's mostly efficient outing, the starter did work himself into a bit of trouble in the sixth and seventh. It was in the sixth that the Orioles scored their only two runs off Ortiz, and in the seventh, it looked like he might be headed for more trouble with runners on first and second. Ortiz delivered a pitch to Brian Roberts that the Orioles' second baseman laced to right field.

But there was Jason Tyner, who replaced Cuddyer in the fifth inning after Cuddyer left with a laceration on his chin, making a sliding catch to end the threat and the inning. Ortiz reacted with his usual abundance of emotion, jumping up and down with excitement.

"It's unbelievable," Ortiz said of the catch. "You like to see people play that way. It makes you aggressive in every pitch."

Ortiz's aggressiveness is something the Twins don't want him to lose, but they were most excited to see him settle down during the times when trouble arose. Throughout his career, Ortiz has been known to give up big innings, when, after giving up a few hits, he begins to press and starts to throw harder rather than relying on the natural motion of the ball.

That wasn't what Ortiz did on Wednesday, when he limited the damage he saw in the sixth and seventh innings by making good pitches after allowing a few Orioles base hits. Being able to stop the scoring from turning into a landslide is something that the Twins feel is a good sign of what's to come for the pitcher.

"In the past, he tries harder and then stuff elevates and it snowballs," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "His thing is you have to keep him slowed down. And tonight it was good."

The outing by Ortiz was a positive end to a great series for the Twins. The three-game sweep of the Orioles marked the first time the Twins have started the season 3-0 since 2001.

"We played pretty decent baseball here and got some good pitching," Gardenhire said. "We have a long road ahead of us, but it's a good start."

And even better was the fact that they were able to do so without worrying about their closer having to seal the final victory. After his wife Lisa gave birth to 8 pound, 6 ounce Riley Grace at 8:34 p.m. CT, Nathan was able to make it back to the Metrodome in time for the ninth inning. He got to clap hands with all of his teammates and pass out pink chocolate cigars as he recounted his tale of watching the game and even taking pictures of it on the TV during the delivery.

Still, not having to take to the mound after what admittedly was a long, emotional day was something that Nathan was thankful for and his teammates were happy to provide.

"I was talking with my agent on the way over and I said I was kind of glad it's not a save situation because I'm kind of floating right now," Nathan said with a laugh. "I'd probably throw 100 [mph] but not know where it's going, so I was glad to not have to get in there, and these guys had it well in hand."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.