Image credit: Luis Ortiz (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
DURHAM, N.C. — The Orioles once again have the worst ERA in baseball, a 6.05 mark more than half a run worse than the next-closest team.
Ortiz, the Orioles’ No. 13 prospect, pitched five innings of one-run ball on Tuesday and Rogers, their No. 28 prospect, followed with seven brilliant innings on Wednesday to lead Triple-A Norfolk to consecutive wins over Triple-A Durham (Rays).
With the major league staff still licking its wounds after surrendering 14 home runs in the final four games of April, the starts were welcome glimmers of positivity in an otherwise rough stretch Orioles organization pitching-wise.
“A lot of us here are competing to go back up,” Ortiz said. “We see the big league club. They’re struggling at the same time we’re down here competing for a spot up there.”
Ortiz, a 23-year-old righthander acquired in last year’s Jonathan Schoop trade, reached 94-95 mph with his fastball and paired it with an effective mid-80s slider and a low 80s changeup to record his first win of the season. Rogers, a 24-year-old lefthander acquired in the Zack Britton trade last July, was masterfully efficient with his three-pitch mix and needed only 86 pitches to get through seven innings of one-run ball in his outing.
Both had largely struggled up to this point in the season. But as their manager noted, a couple of starts in the right direction may be all it takes for them to receive a callup given the Orioles’ need for arms.
“They were told that in spring training and they can see it,” Norfolk manager Gary Kendall said. “It can happen at any moment and all it takes is string together a couple good games, where(as) sometimes in the minor leagues you can put together months and nobody is knocking on your door.”
Ortiz and Rogers were each hit hard in their first major league stints. Ortiz made his first two big league appearances last year with the Orioles and allowed seven hits and four earned runs in 2.1 innings. Rogers gave up 11 runs in 11.2 innings last year and surrendered five runs—including three home runs—in 3.2 innings in his lone major league appearance this year.
Both returned to the minors and made changes to be better prepared the next time they get called up.
For Ortiz, that meant dropping from 272 pounds to 245 pounds in the offseason by cutting back on his portion sizes.
“I’m just getting used to just pitching again, getting after it and trying to feel the new body with the new weight,” he said. “I feel like getting down the hill right now is something I’m doing really well. I’m trying to repeat it and (Tuesday) it showed, trying to compete and go down the hill and throw every pitch with conviction.”
For Rogers, keeping the ball down has been a focal point after giving up five home runs in 15.1 career innings in the majors, as well as three longballs in his most recent minor league start.
“I think this was the first start in forever I haven’t given up a home run,” Rogers said. “That was like my number one thing. I finally kept the ball in the ballpark. Just keeping the ball down.”
Both were successful in the endeavors in their most recent starts. If they can keep it up, they’ll have a chance to be part of the solution to the Orioles pitching woes sooner rather than later.
“I know that opportunity wasn’t there for me up there at this point, so I’m just getting ready,” Rogers said. “Whenever my number and name is called, just be ready to have some success up there because I’m definitely ready to do that. Hopefully I can turn the page the next time I get the opportunity.”