SARASOTA, FLA. — Rookie right-hander Luis Ortiz didn’t make much of a first impression when he joined the Orioles during last season’s September roster expansion. He was overweight and out of shape and manager Buck Showalter did not hide his displeasure.
Ortiz made two rocky appearances at the big league level that didn’t change anybody’s opinion and went home over the winter with a mandate for personal change.
“As a kid growing up, going through what I went through coming up through the minors, I only heard what I wanted to hear,’’ Ortiz said. “I got to the point where I got big. I wasn’t in shape. Didn’t take an offseason right until this year I took it serious. Cutting the weight was a key factor for me.”
His professional career started with such promise. The Texas Rangers made him their first pick in the 2014 draft out of Sanger High School in central California, but they traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2016 season. The Brewers threw him into the deal with the Orioles that sent popular second baseman Jonathan Schoop to Milwaukee.
He made his major league debut on Sept. 7 and gave up three runs in a brief relief appearance against the Tampa Bay Rays. He also made one start and lasted less than two innings. When you pitch like that — even in a very brief audition — it’s too easy for people to question your conditioning and commitment.
By his own account, he lost 25 pounds in just a few months on a strict, portion-controlled diet and definitely looks like he’s ready to start over. If so, he’s definitely in the right organization.
“This whole organization is on the rebuild,” Ortiz said. “I was part of the Milwaukee rebuild and got traded over to Baltimore last year. Being here and being part of this rebuild means a lot, to all these guys, especially all the young guys in here. It means a lot to be in this clubhouse and fighting for a spot.”
Ortiz credits former Brewers pitcher Matt Garza, who also grew up outside Fresno, Calif., for helping him get his head on straight, but his true motivation is a lot closer to home.
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“I have two kids, a daughter and a son, and my motivation is to grind every day for them,” Ortiz said.