Ortiz's lack of command halts recent surge

After posting 2.20 ERA over past 3 outings, righty walks career-high 6 batters in loss

September 17th, 2023

PITTSBURGH -- Regardless of the degree to which baseball evolves, there are two words that have always, and will forever, ring true: walks hurt.

Luis L. Ortiz walked a career-high six batters and allowed four earned runs across 4 2/3 innings as the Pirates lost to the Yankees, 6-3, on Saturday night at PNC Park. Following back-to-back losses on Friday and Saturday, Pittsburgh faces the possibility Sunday of being swept for the first time since mid-July.

“It was tough for me tonight to find the strike zone,” Ortiz said through team interpreter Stephen Morales. “I continued to work hard, but I couldn’t find it all game.”

Of the four earned runs allowed by Ortiz, three were -- in some way -- the result of a walk.

In the first, the Yankees put runners on first and second with one out as DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres each drew a free pass on five pitches apiece. New York didn’t let them go to waste as rookie catcher Austin Wells capitalized by roping a double just over the outstretched glove of center fielder Jack Suwinski to drive in LeMahieu.

Giancarlo Stanton followed up Wells’ double by watching four balls go by, Ortiz’s third walk of the inning. That paved the way for Estevan Florial to drive in Torres and Wells with a two-run single, putting the Pirates in a 3-0 deficit before they stepped to the plate. By the time the frame ended, Ortiz had thrown 31 pitches, including more balls (17) than strikes (14).

In total, Ortiz threw nearly the same amount of strikes (45) as balls (43) against the Yankees. At 51.1%, Ortiz’s strike percentage was his lowest of the season and the second-lowest of his career (50% against the Cardinals on Oct. 1, 2022).

Ortiz attributed his inability to find the strike zone due to “flying open” with some of his pitches as opposed to moving straight down the mound. Manager Derek Shelton also thought that Ortiz looked rushed, neither consistent with his arm slot nor his ability to move down the mound.

“It’s easy to recognize,” Ortiz said. “You try your best, and sometimes, it doesn’t go your way. I recognized with some of the hitters that I was trying too hard. Sometimes, when you’re trying too hard, that’s what happens: you try to throw harder and then you fly open. We’ll work on it.”

Added Shelton: “Overall, we cannot give free baserunners away.”

If walks are a slow burn, then home runs are a rapid blaze. Ortiz was scorched by both. In the third, Stanton smoldered Ortiz’s down-and-inside slider -- one that catcher Endy Rodríguez wanted down and away -- over the left-field fence at a blazing 109.6 mph off the bat.

Ortiz’s erratic outing against the Yankees was a departure from his past several appearances. In his past three games (two starts, one bulk relief appearance), Ortiz allowed four earned runs across 16 1/3 innings (2.20 ERA). Along with the run prevention, Ortiz consistently sat in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and sinker, seeing an uptick in velocity compared to his first stint with the team earlier this season.

Pittsburgh’s offense helped compensate for Ortiz’s shaky start, scoring two runs in the first inning via Bryan Reynolds’ two-run homer and another run in the third by way of Rodríguez’s sacrifice fly. The Pirates trailed by just one after three innings, but from there, the offense went silent. Yankees relievers Jhony Brito, Ian Hamilton and Clay Holmes combined to retire all 15 batters they faced, not allowing a single runner after Yankees starter Luke Weaver's four innings, let alone a run.

“[New York] did a nice job,” Shelton said. “Brito came in and he's got good stuff. There's a little funk there and [he] kind of kept us off-balance. We just didn't have very good at-bats after the [third] inning, because I thought we hit some balls hard in the [third].”