PITTSBURGH — When Luis Ortiz burst onto the scene with the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, he immediately opened some eyes.
In his major league debut, Ortiz faced the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark in the second game of a doubleheader.
His first start in the big leagues couldn’t have gone much better. The young right-hander held the Reds scoreless through 5.2 innings of work. He only allowed one hit, walked three and struck out five batters.
The terrific pitching line wasn’t even the most impressive thing about his debut, however.
Ortiz displayed a power fastball that hit at least 100 mph on six occasions. Those six times weren’t a fluke, either. In that outing, Ortiz averaged 99 mph with the pitch.
Largely due to what he showed in the majors last season, Ortiz skyrocketed up just about every prospect list and he became one of the top pitchers in the Pirates’ minor league systems.
The Pirates would have to rely on the 24-year-old as a big part of their starting rotation, and he got his first chance of the season on May 9.
The problem, though, is that Ortiz didn’t look like the same pitcher who opened so many eyes with his performance to start his 2023 campaign.
Ortiz’s tumultuous early-season included poor performances, a brief trip to the bullpen, and perhaps most importantly, a big drop in velocity.
Ortiz’s fastball was sitting more in the mid-90s than the upper-90s and it was obvious that hitters were having a much easier time with it than before.
After being optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis to sort out his struggles, Ortiz was brought back up towards the end of last month.
His first appearance back didn’t go well. His last two, however, have been much better. And there seems to be a correlation.
While still not quite hitting triple-digits, Ortiz’s fastball velocity had a few more ticks to it than it did earlier in the season during his first stint of the year. It seems as though his work in Indianapolis is paying dividends.
“I think we see it up when watch him work linear down the mound,” manager Derek Shelton said after Ortiz’s performance on Monday. “When he works down the mound I think we saw it kind of tip. And I know he hit Canha with the breaking ball but you just see him start to rotate out and not working the lines he needs to and when he works in the lines, the velocity is where it should be.”
In Monday’s win against the Milwaukee Brewers, Ortiz worked around some traffic, limited damage in what could have been a disastrous second inning, and held the first-place Brewers to two runs in 6.0 innings pitched.
“A ton (of confidence after his last two outings). Especially they scored the first two runs without a hit and then he gave up the infield single but to be able to bounce back against the best team in our division and execute throughout that lineup, especially with some of the lefthanders there, it was very impressive and it’s a really encouraging sign,” Shelton said.
It was the first quality start for Luis Ortiz since June 23, when he threw 8.0 innings of one-run ball against the Miami Marlins.
His fastball velocity was up again. The big righty hit as high as 99 mph and was routinely sitting around 97 mph.
“It feels awesome. I feel pretty happy with that outing today,” said Ortiz. It’s just a product of the work that I’ve put in the last few months just to get back to what I was last year.”
With a starting rotation that currently consists of two full-time starters, the Pirates will be counting on Ortiz to help get them through the end of the regular season — and beyond for that matter.
It’s been a challenging year for Ortiz, but a strong finish to the season could help him get back on track to the potential that made his stock as a prospect soar.
With challenges, though, come learning opportunities, and it’s those opportunities that Luis Ortiz will use as he moves forward.
“Just a matter of hard work. Some of the stuff you can’t control, but it’s just a matter of continuing to work hard. Whatever decisions they make, just be ready for it.”