A Fifth Gear: Luis Ortiz Finds a Groove in the Fifth
Hickory Crawdads starting pitcher Luis Ortiz woke up Tuesday morning (June 9) with a text from his catcher Jose Trevino.
“He texted me saying, ‘you got selected,’” said Ortiz of how he heard of being named to the South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Trevino’s text then continued with an admonition saying. “Let’s go out there and pitch and show them why you got selected to be an all-star.”
Ortiz did just that by delivering a strong six innings of shutout baseball that sent the Crawdads to a 5-2 win over the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs at L.P. Frans Stadium. He struck out four, allowed four hits – only two after the first inning – and retired the final ten batters he faced.
The outing almost never happened after he slipped on the mound when he threw the first pitch of the game. After stretching on the mound, he called Trevino to the mound, and was soon followed by manager Corey Ragsdale, pitching coach Oscar Marin and trainer Sean Fields.
“He almost came out of the game,” said Ragsdale. “That’s one of those deals where if he’s not 100%, and he lets us know, or if we don’t think he’s being honest with us, then he’s probably going to come out of the game right there. I think it scared him more than anything.”
After a few warmup tosses, Ortiz stayed in the game and eventually worked out of a first-and-third situation with one out when he got Juan Graterol to pull a slider and hit into a 6-4-3 twin killing.
Ortiz said there was never a question in his mind as to whether or not he would stay in the game.
“No, I wanted to pitch. I don’t like going out there and throwing one pitch and then you’re done. That’s not me. I want to go out there and compete. If I’m hurt, I’ll still compete.”
Including a 92-94 mph fastball at the start, Ortiz threw a three-pitch mix (fastball, slider, change) in the first couple of innings. Though he got a strikeout of Jorge Mateo with a change in the first – and came back to it occasionally – the slider became his go-to secondary pitch much of the night.
Vince Conde ripped a 96 mph heater for a single in the second and Dustin Fowler added a seeing-eye single up the middle in the third for what turned out to be the final base runner to reach against Ortiz. Then after Rock Shoulders added to Hickory’s 1-0 lead with a homer to right, it got filthy in the fifth.
“I felt like my arm was loosening up,” Ortiz said. “I went out and my mentality was like, let’s go win and get a W.”
Ortiz saying his arm was loosening up seemed simplistic watching in person. The windup remained the smooth, easy delivery he’s shown most of the time since coming to Hickory in 2014. But the ball exited his right hand similar to The Roadrunner leaving the TV screen in Warner Brothers cartoon.
It started against the right-handed hitter Conde in the fifth with a 97 mph rocket on the outside corner at the knees. Conde swung through another 97 before taking what looked like a backdoor slider at 90 to the knees for strike three.
Next came the lefty Austin Aune, who battled through a seven-pitch at bat. He whiffed a 1-1, 98 mph heater, then watched a change come in low and inside. Aune then spoiled a 96 mph pitch, took a 98 just inside before finding air on another slider coming in at the knees.
Alexander Palma ended the inning by taking a change out to center.
When asked about the predominant use of his slider as the game went along, Ortiz gave credit to Trevino for calling the pitch.
“I thank Trevino, because he’s the one who called the game for me. I believe in my catcher. I go with him and I trust him. That’s how pitchers should be: trust their catchers.”
In the sixth, Ortiz finished the night by sandwiching a couple of 4-3 grounders on outside corner fastballs to Mateo and Angel Aguilar around a flyout to right by Fowler.
The final pitch to Aguilar, which turned out to be Ortiz’s final toss of the night, came in at 99 mph on the radar gun.
“He got better as he went on,” Ragsdale said. “I don’t know what the deal was with that, but that was impressive. He went from good stuff to really, really good stuff. It was exciting, is what it is – a young kid navigating his way through the lineup, especially going through it again in the fifth and sixth inning for the third time. Usually, that’s when it gets dicey, but he got stronger. It was fun to watch.”
Of the first 50 pitches he threw, Ortiz tossed only three pitches that were at 96, which much of the velocity hovering at 92-94. In the fifth and sixth innings, Ortiz threw 16 of 28 pitches at 96 and above. When asked about what seemed to be the discovery of a fifth gear, Ortiz said he couldn’t explain it.
“I just went out there. It was just me and it happens. Thanks to God. He came with me and helped me. He kept me away from injury and it just happened. I just don’t know if it was another gear, it was just another pitch.”