PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Pirates found out Monday night just how much one of their homegrown starting pitchers can excel.
Mitch Keller threw a four-hit shutout to beat the Colorado Rockies 2-0 at PNC Park. It was the first complete game of his five-year career and was an impressive outing in which Keller threw 76 of his 103 pitches for strikes.
While Roansy Contreras has never pitched in the major leagues for anyone but the Pirates, Keller is the only starter who began his professional career in the organization. Contreras was acquired from the New York Yankees prior to the 2021 season as part of a trade package for Jameson Taillon.
The Pirates would love to see Luis Ortiz become the next homegrown pitcher to become a rotation fixture. He will be recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and start Tuesday night against the Rockies.
Ortiz will be taking the rotation spot of Vince Velasquez, who is sidelined by elbow inflammation. Ortiz returns after making four starts for the Pirates last September to launch his major-league career.
It is highly unlikely that Ortiz will duplicate Keller’s outing. In fact, it took Keller four seasons to truly get a foothold in the big leagues.
However, the Pirates believe the 24-year-old Ortiz can hold his own in the big leagues.
“We expect him to compete,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “He’s got ability, really good pitches, competitive. He’s used his time at Indy to his benefit. He’s in a good spot physically, his delivery is in a better spot than it was in spring training, he’s throwing strikes. We expect him to compete and attack the zone. If he does that, he’ll be effective.”
Ortiz was not considered a top prospect until he had a breakout season in the minor leagues in 2022. While his 5-9 record and 4.56 ERA in 24 games combined (23 starts) with Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona were unimpressive, he opened the Pirates’ eyes with a much-improved fastball and slider.
This season, Ortiz has turned potential into results at Indianapolis. He is 3-1 with a 2.23 ERA in seven starts with a 0.96 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 32.1 innings. The Pirates also feel has become more consistent with his throwing mechanics, though they would like him to continue improving his changeup.
Ortiz’s four starts in the big leagues last September were a mixed bag. He finished 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA.
“He’s been throwing the ball well,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “He’s moving down the mound better. I think in spring training we talked about how he was moving down the mound. We needed it to be a little bit cleaner. It has definitely been that way his last three-ish starts.
“We saw Louie last year. We know he has multiple weapons. We’ve talked about pitching depth and making sure that we’re building pitching depth, and he’s part of it. Those are the things that have stood out over the last few outings.”
How that translates to his second go-round in the major leagues remains to be seen. Considering how high he has climbed up the prospect charts – Baseball America ranks him as the Pirates’ top pitching prospect – it should be fun to find out.