PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Austin Hedges was the battery mate of rookie right-hander Luis Ortiz for the first time and the duo were able to produce a gem.
Hedges, a nine-year major league veteran with a strong defensive reputation, was tasked with helping the 24-year-old Ortiz shake off a pair of not-so-great outings.
Ortiz tossed a career-high 7.2 innings and allowed only a pair of runs against one of the top offensive teams in the league in the Pirates’ 6-4 win over the Texas Rangers on Monday night. Ortiz was happy to have worked with Hedges.
“Very comfortable with (Hedges) behind the plate. We met before the game to go over the game plan and I think that was key for the success tonight,” he said.
Through his first two starts to begin 2023, Ortiz was 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA with five walks and only four strikeouts in eight innings.
Ortiz turned it around at PNC Park on Monday and flashed the potential that makes him arguably the top pitching prospect in the Pirates’ system.
In talking with Ortiz before the game, Hedges made it clear that one current Pirates’ pitcher in particular has similar traits — Mitch Keller.
Keller has established himself as one of the better pitchers in the league as we approach the one-third mark of the 2023 season. That’s not a bad comparison to have.
“I think one of the things that’s given Mitch so much success is mixing in that two-seam and that four-seam. So, that’s what we wanted to do today. And I think what’s so nice about it was it allowed us to throw more fastballs and get those quick outs where they didn’t know how to swing at the fastball,” Hedges said.
So, while the gameplan was to emulate what has given Keller success, Hedges took things one step further.
“I think Mitch is going out there as arguably the best pitcher in the league right now and I think Luis has very similar stuff to him to be able to throw a two-seam and a four-seam, slider and changeup. Really other than having the other kind of bigger breaking balls, they’re very similar pitchers,” said Hedges.
The Pirates would be ecstatic to have another Mitch Keller in their rotation. Keller is currently fourth in the National League with a 2.44 ERA. He has a 5-1 record and has 77 strikeouts against only 14 walks.
Ortiz might have that kind of potential in store. He currently ranks as the Pirates’ eighth-best prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
Ortiz can learn a lot from a guy like Keller and what he has done, and Hedges could be the guy to extract that potential.
“You can really relate it to Mitch where Mitch for a while, he wasn’t really getting the strikeouts. He had the good stuff and he’s getting a lot of weak contact and he’s learned how to strike guys out, really as of late. I think that’s the next development is learning how to use that good stuff that gets weak contact and knowing how to put guys away,” Hedges said.
Ortiz’s short-term future with the club may be in question. Vince Velasquez already made one rehab appearance and is getting closer to returning from the IL.
“We have a decision looming because Vince will be coming back. I don’t think we’ve decided what we’re going to do with his next start, if it’s going to be another rehab start or if it’s going to be up here,” manager Derek Shelton said.
For the time being, Ortiz can continue to work with Hedges to try to untap the potential that Keller has in the last 12 months.