Ortiz homers, hits key double in Cutter victory

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Jhailyn Ortiz makes a diving catch Friday night for the Crosscutters against Lowell at Bowman Field.

Standing around home plate, Jhailyn Ortiz watched Lowell pitcher Denyi Reyes closely as he threw his warm-up pitches in the bottom of the sixth inning Friday night. Ortiz was going to be the first Williamsport hitter to face the reliever and he was paying attention to how Reyes warmed up.

What the 18-year-old Cross­cutters outfielder noticed is six of Reyes’ seven warm-up pitches were curveballs. Ortiz figured it was a good sign the right-hander was going to try to attack him with breaking balls.

Ortiz was right. Reyes hung a curveball on the first pitch and Ortiz crushed it to the wall in left field, scoring two of the three runners on base and giving Williamsport a three-run lead.

Ortiz drove in three of the Crosscutters’ four runs last night at Bowman Field with his fourth home run of the season and that two-run double. It backed the three Williamsport pitchers who combined on a six-hit shutout in a 4-0 win in the opener of a three-game set with the Spinners.

Kyle Young improved to 4-0 this year by tossing five shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out four. He extended his scoreless inning streak to 15. Connor Brogdon and Damon Jones combined to throw four scoreless innings to close out the game and give Williamsport its eighth consecutive win at Bowman Field.

The Cutters have won every game at home since starting the season with a five-game losing streak at the newly renovated stadium.

“We’re playing well,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “I think we’ve been playing well for a number of games. I’m not surprised they’re winning.”

On a night where Williams­port’s league-best offense struggled to consistently have success against the Spinners, Ortiz took matters into his own hands. After getting the signs confused and popping out on a bunt attempt in his first at-bat, he got a hanging change-up from Lowell starter Yorvin Pantoja on the first pitch of his second at-bat and deposited it over the left-field wall.

The fourth home run of Ortiz’s season never got more than about 25 feet off the ground and was hit so hard it looked like it had a tail of fire trailing it. Not even a third of the way through the season, Ortiz is already halfway to his career high of eight home runs which he hit in the Gulf Coast League last year.

“I was looking for a fastball, and obviously he left the pitch up. It was a hanging change-up. I was able to stay back on it and kill it,” Ortiz said through fellow Cutter Jesus Azuaje, who translated. “I’m able to recognize off-speed right now and I’m seeing the off-speed right now. I feel like I’m good at doing it right now.”

“When he has the right approach, he’s able to do that with all pitches,” Bor­ders said. “When he has a smoother approach instead of being a little out of control, which sometimes he gets, I think he can hit fastballs and breaking balls.”

But Ortiz’s biggest swing didn’t come until the next inning when he stepped in against Reyes with the bases loaded and two outs. He hadn’t had a hit with the bases loaded in two previous attempts before last night.

As he focused on Reyes’ warm-up pitches, though, he thought he had an idea of what to expect. The curveball was up out of Reyes’ hand and it dropped into the path of the smooth pass Ortiz put on the pitch. The ball one-hopped the wall in left field scoring Jake Scheiner and Adam Haseley to push the Cutters’ lead to 3-0.

“It was the same approach as before,” Ortiz said. “I got a hanging curveball and was able to stay back and crush it.”

“(After the bunt) we said don’t expand yourself too much. You are what you are, which is a middle-of-the-order hitter,” Borders said. “When he gets to the big leagues, I would assume he’s going to be that again and he’s supposed to drive in runs. He’s going to be a really good player and I think he’s going to be a big leaguer, and he might be a really, really good big leaguer.”

It was more than enough for a pitching staff which tossed its first shutout. Young continued his strong run to start the season with his third consecutive scoreless outing.

Over that span the 19-year-old left-hander has allowed just seven hits (4.2 hits per 9 IP), struck out 19 (11.4 Ks per 9 IP) and walked just four (2.2 BBs per 9 IP). Those numbers could be even more ridiculous than they already are even the Phillies weren’t limiting him to a maximum of five innings per outing as they try to take it easy on his arm.

Last night Young threw just 57 pitches in his five innings with 42 (73.7 percent) for strikes. He also threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of 19 batters. With his curveball not as sharp as it was a week ago when he struck out 11 in five innings against Mahoning Valley, Young dominated with his fastball getting Lowell hitters to beat it into the ground over and over again. His seven ground-ball outs were the second-most he’s had in a start this season.

“It really felt like the ball was getting on a good, downhill plane and I was forcing some ground balls,” Young said. “I was really happy with that.”

“That was a sign of him maturing and becoming a pitcher that you want and think and hope he’ll be,” Borders said. “He’s a guy with good stuff and is able to pitch when he doesn’t have his best stuff. I don’t think he did have his very best stuff, but it wasn’t bad. But he knows how to pitch and he’s learning how to pitch.”