PITTSBURGH – Things have gone from great to bad for the Pittsburgh Pirates in about 0-60.
The Pirates have lost a season-high five games in a row since their surprising 20-8 start that gave them the best record in the National League. The latest defeat was a listless 4-0 decision to the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night at PNC Park that included baserunning blunders reminiscent of the 2020-22 Pirates.
Making matters worse, Andrew McCutchen sprained an ankle during pre-game drills and Ji Hwan Bae hurt his ankle in the eighth inning while running out a ground ball.
That made the Pirates’ bad news from earlier in the day almost forgotten by the time the game ended.
The Pirates placed right-hander Vince Velasquez on the 15-day injured list with right elbow inflammation prior to Friday night’s game. He left his start Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg after three innings because of discomfort in the elbow.
The Pirates had little news on Velasquez as he was still undergoing testing when manager Derek Shelton addressed the media before Friday night’s game. Shelton was coy on who would take Velasquez’s next turn in the starting rotation, which is scheduled for Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park.
However, the Pirates pretty much telegraphed the answer Friday night. Right-hander Luis Ortiz was removed from his start for Triple-A Indianapolis after just three innings in Toledo, which put him in line to pitch Tuesday on three days of rest.
Based on the organizational depth chart at the start of the season, Ortiz is the logical pitcher to be promoted from Indianapolis. Baseball America ranks Ortiz as the Pirates’ fourth-best prospect – and top pitcher – and No. 66 overall prospect in baseball.
The 24-year-old is 2-1 with a 2.23 ERA in seven games in the International League. He has allowed just 20 hits in 30.2 innings while striking out 29 and walking 11.
While Ortiz has pitched well, the Pirates would like to keep him at Triple-A for a bit longer in a perfect world. Though Ortiz did make four starts for the Pirates last September, he has had just eight turns in the rotation with Indianapolis over two seasons.
A case could have been made in spring training that the Pirates would have no dropoff if they were forced to go with Ortiz over Velasquez. In Grapefruit League play, Velazquez had a 5.79 ERA in 14 innings.
Velasquez has long been considered a great talent who hasn’t matched his ability with results in the major leagues. However, the Pirates appear to have found the formula for Velasquez to succeed.
Prior to Thursday, Velasquez had won four starts in a row. He also had an 18.1 scoreless inning streak, the longest of his nine-year career, snapped when Tampa Bay’s Tyler Walls hit a home run in the second inning.
Velasquez’s injury puts a substantial hole in the rotation that is already without right-hander JT Brubaker following season-ending Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Ortiz – who looks bigger than that – might be able to fill the void.
That would be a big lift for the Pirates. The rash of injuries and the losses quickly piling up are causing those good April vibes to dissipate rapidly,.