Ortiz's season debut riddled with unfortunate breaks

May 10th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Luis L. Ortiz’s season debut may have been defined by several unfortunate breaks, but in his first start at PNC Park this season, the right-hander flashed the raw talent that could make him a rotation mainstay.

Ortiz allowed five runs (two earned) across five innings as the Pirates fell to the Rockies, 10-1, on Tuesday. The raw results don’t jump off the page for Ortiz, who is ranked the club's No. 8 prospect and was pitching on short rest in a spot start, but it was an outing upon which he can build.

“I felt pretty good,” Ortiz said through team interpreter Stephen Morales. “I think I attacked the zone pretty good with my good stuff. I stayed down in the zone, got my ground balls. There was some other stuff I can’t control, but I threw the ball really good tonight.”

The “other stuff” that Ortiz couldn’t control was the defense. In the fourth inning, a pair of mistakes set up a four-run frame for Colorado, only one of which was charged to Ortiz.

With runners on first and second, shortstop Tucupita Marcano was unable to secure Carlos Santana’s throw as the ball hit off the hand of baserunner Elias Díaz, allowing the ball to roll into left field. Instead of potentially turning a double play or, at the minimum, getting one out and putting runners at the corners, the Rockies ended up with a free run.

Three batters later, another curious play unfolded. With the bases loaded, Ezequiel Tovar hit a chopper at Ji Hwan Bae. Instead of flipping the ball to Marcano and trying for the inning-ending double play, Bae elected to chase down and tag Harold Castro. Bae’s decision allowed Díaz to score, pushing Colorado’s lead to two runs. Charlie Blackmon and Randal Grichuk followed up with back-to-back RBI singles, increasing the Rockies’ lead to four runs.

“I think on that ball, we got to go second and see what happens on a double play instead of stopping,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “As soon as you stop and go, then we're not going to get the double play. So, we got to give that ball up."

Ortiz’s start was reminiscent of Mitch Keller’s outing against the Rays last Wednesday, in which Keller allowed five total runs but only one earned run in five innings due to several defensive miscues. While Ortiz couldn’t control what unfolded behind him, he could control which pitches he threw. On this night, Ortiz offered the most changeups that he’s thrown in a Major League game.

Last season, Ortiz only threw 14 changeups in his four starts with the Pirates. On Tuesday, by comparison, Ortiz threw eight changeups. The pitch wasn’t particularly effective as Ortiz struggled with location, but he did manage to get Blackmon to whiff on one at 90.7 mph that dropped off the table.

“I’m going to continue to throw the changeup because I’m getting some good results with it,” Ortiz said. “I feel pretty comfortable with it. I’m just going to continue to throw it and get better at it.”

The duration of Ortiz’s current stint with the Pirates remains unclear. Vince Velasquez (right elbow inflammation) is still on the injured list, but with three off-days in the next nine days, the Pirates could hypothetically roll with a four-man rotation while Velasquez recovers and option Ortiz back to Triple-A Indianapolis.