MILWAUKEE -- They pitched hours and time zones apart on Thursday: the mentor, Matt Garza, in Milwaukee, and the mentee, Luis Ortiz, in Jackson, Miss., for Double-A Biloxi. The two have known each other for years, but until Aug. 1, they pitched in different organizations. That changed when the Brewers acquired Ortiz from the Rangers as part of the Jonathan Lucroy trade.
Suddenly, the two were Brewers teammates.
"He's real pumped about it," Garza said. "He's a good kid. He knows what he wants, and I told him, 'It's an opportunity you can't pass up and you can't take lightly. This is not high school or summer ball. This is life now.'"
They met in 2013, when Garza was home in Fresno, Calif., at the start of free agency and Ortiz was starting his senior year at nearby Sanger High School in the inland suburbs. A member of Ortiz's family ran into one of Garza's former football coaches and asked whether the veteran pitcher would take a meeting with the young Draft prospect.
When they met, Ortiz asked whether he could join Garza in his offseason workouts with Garza's brother, Michael.
"I gave him an opportunity," Garza said, "and he stepped through."
They were in Garza's home gym at 5 a.m. and worked out until it was time for Garza to drive Ortiz to school. Garza returned home, tended to his own children as they began their day, then returned to the gym for his throwing sessions.
These were important lessons for Ortiz, who stands 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and has missed time last season with a forearm injury and this season with a strained groin. Garza said Ortiz is just "naturally a big guy."
"There's some days we still have to get on him a while," Garza said. "But he's . He's a kid. He's a big kid. But you can never question his competitiveness or the 'want' that he has. I expect to see him here sooner [rather] than later."
Thursday's scheduled start would be Ortiz's second for Biloxi since the trade. Including his three scoreless innings in his organizational debut, Ortiz has a 3.33 ERA with 65 strikeouts versus 14 walks in 70 1/3 innings at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels this season. Over parts of three professional seasons, beginning when he was drafted 30th overall by the Rangers in 2014, he has a 2.56 ERA and nearly 4 1/2 strikeouts to every walk.
A power pitcher who reaches 97 mph with his fastball and features a plus slider, Ortiz is No. 5 on MLBPipeline.com's list of the top Brewers prospects.
Over the years, Garza and Ortiz have become friends. So have Garza's wife, Serina, and Ortiz's fiancée.
"I kind of helped him mature a little bit, showed him the way and what it takes," Garza said. "The grind, the workout mentality you have to have to get here and stay here. He took it and ran with it."