'He's stepped up': Ortiz continues to impress Crew

Rookie third baseman belts three-run homer, finishes triple shy of cycle against Astros

May 18th, 2024

HOUSTON -- You never know what will come out when manager Pat Murphy sits in front of a microphone. Like when he mused aloud about trying shock therapy as a means to promote plate discipline.

“When he swings at a breaking ball in the dirt, I want to tase him,” Murphy said, referring to rookie third baseman . “I don’t know if that’s legal.”

While the Brewers’ attorneys check on that, Ortiz is proving he can evolve without such extreme measures. Take a 5-4 loss to the Astros on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, in which the 25-year-old Ortiz delivered a temporary lead with a three-run home run in the fourth inning and extended his on-base streak to eight straight plate appearances before flying out to right field in the ninth inning against Houston closer Josh Hader.

Ortiz was the first Brewers hitter since Jace Peterson in August 2021 to reach safely in eight straight trips to the plate, continuing a big week in which the rookie essentially was handed everyday third-base duties with fellow rookie Oliver Dunn’s demotion to the Minors.

Ortiz answered by hitting one of the team’s five home runs in Wednesday’s series-clinching win over the Pirates in Milwaukee, then added a double, a homer and a single in that order against the Astros to extend a stretch of 16 games in which he’s 17-for-49 (.347) with five home runs – the first five of his MLB career.

“He’s really hot and putting good swings on the baseball,” Brewers starter Freddy Peralta said. “Even the last AB against Hader, one of the best pitchers, he made really good contact. I thought it was gone, too, because of the way that the ball was flying today.

“I thought we were going to tie the game in that moment.”

Peralta said the last part a bit wistfully, because he’d been burned by the flight of a baseball four innings earlier. It was in the fifth, when Peralta placed a full-count slider at the bottom of the strike zone against Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña, only to see Peña get enough of it to send it to the seats in left field for a three-run homer that flipped the lead in Houston’s favor.

It was the second home run off Peralta in the game and in his three starts this month. And it spoiled a night in which Peralta said he was pleased with his execution, only to be saddled with five earned runs on eight hits -- tying season highs in both categories -- and one walk in five innings.

“The way that he hit it … I didn’t think it was gone. I thought it was a fly ball,” Peralta said.

Peña’s homer erased another productive night for Jake Bauers, whose home run in the second inning gave him four homers and 14 RBIs in his past 15 games, and Ortiz, who is getting his first extended opportunity at third base since the Brewers acquired him with left-hander DL Hall in February’s trade sending Corbin Burnes to the Orioles.

At the start of the season, the right-handed-hitting Ortiz and the left-handed-hitting Dunn split time at third. When Dunn’s bat cooled, the Brewers decided to make a change.

“He’s stepped up,” Murphy said. “We sent [Dunn] down because we’re going to play [Ortiz] against righties and lefties, and it wasn’t fair to ask a kid who hasn’t played [much] above Double-A to be a bench player or pinch-hit and stuff like that. So we thought we’d send him down and just go with Ortiz every day. ‘Tito,’ he’s embraced it.”

Said Peralta of Ortiz: “I’m excited about him and the other guys, too.”

Ortiz also made his presence felt on defense in the first inning, when Houston’s Kyle Tucker hit a fly ball that missed being a home run by inches and caromed off a corner of the wall in left field.

Christian Yelich relayed it to shortstop Willy Adames, who threw to Ortiz covering third. Because Ortiz let the baseball travel as far as possible before catching it and tagging Tucker in one split-second, the Brewers had an inning-ending out.

“I think the most surprised guy in the stadium was Tucker,” Murphy said.

For Ortiz, it’s the best kind of cycle. More playing time means more moments to produce in the field and at the plate. And more production begets more playing time.

“With the timing, it helps out a lot. It’s a comfortability thing,” Ortiz said. “We push each other. We want each other to do well and you see what happens.”