Ortiz homers in Cutters win

CARA MORNINGSTAR/Sun-Gazette Nick Choruby of Auburn slides back to first base as Greg Pickett of the Crosscutters goes after an errant pickoff throw Tuesday at Bowman Field.

There wasn’t the usual hop in his step as Jhailyn Ortiz ran the bases in the seventh inning Tuesday night. Seeing as how the baseball he just hit was laying somewhere in the darkness of the back side of the Bowman Field fence, he didn’t need to run particularly fast. In fact, he could just coast the 360 feet he had to traverse to run out his seventh-inning three-run home run.

Even though he didn’t look to be 100 percent late in Tuesday’s 8-2 win over Auburn at Bowman Field, the 18-year-old Dominican outfielder looked quite impressive after his six-day layoff. Ortiz went 3 for 4, drove in four runs, and made a tremendous run-saving catch in right field on a dead sprint as the Cutters matched a season high with 16 hits.

But it was that seventh-inning home run for Ortiz, his eighth of the season and first since July 29, which was the defining blow of the third game of a four-game series. For a moment, on a night where he was worried he may re-injure his leg, Ortiz could relax. And he took his time getting around the bases.

“It feels better,” Ortiz said through outfielder Yahir Gurro­la, who translated. “I was kind of taking it easy out there to make sure I felt better.”

Ortiz sat out batting practice and other pre-game work for five days before finally partaking in workouts prior to Monday’s doubleheader at Bowman Field. And he looked like he hadn’t missed a step during the layoff. During his final round of batting practice Monday, manager Pat Borders could only laugh as minor league infield coordinator Doug Mansolino shook his head when Ortiz peppered the road behind the left-field wall, some 430 feet away.

That carried over to last night. Ortiz singled to right field in his first at-bat with a swing a smooth as silk and as effortless as a bird floating on a breeze. Facing a one-run deficit in the sixth inning, Ortiz singled to the left side between third base and shortstop to score Jake Scheiner and tie the game at 2-2. He scored two batters later on a Gurrola (2 for 4, RBI) single.

Then there was his seventh-inning at-bat. Williamsport had already re-taken the lead, 3-2, when Jake Scheiner (4 for 5, double, 2 RBIs) drove in Brian Mims with the third of his four hits.

Ortiz took that lead and put it out of the reach of a Doubledays team which has won just once this season when trailing after seven innings. Pitcher David Smith delivered an 0-1 breaking ball which Ortiz found himself out in front of. When he connected, it didn’t make that thunderous sound which often echoes through Bowman Field on a well-struck baseball.

But still the ball climbed into left field and just kept going until it hit the top bar of the chain-link fence just beyond the outfield wall and bounding off one of the supports of the BB&T Ballpark sign. Ortiz himself didn’t think he hit it well enough for a home run, but he wasn’t giving it back.

His eighth blast of the season tied him with Cole Stobbe for the team lead and put him just one behind Tri-City’s Jake Adams for the league lead. His eighth home run matches his career high for a season which he set last year in the GCL.

“I didn’t think it was a homer,” Ortiz said through Gurrola. “I got a little bit in front of it, but I still got the barrel on it, and thankfully it was a homer.”

“I don’t know if it’s even raw strength,” Borders said. “He’s a strong kid, but there’s something gifted about a hitter who can barrel the ball and have nice backspin and everything’s connected from their legs all the way up and the ball just jumps off their bat. It’s something you can’t really teach. He just has that kind of pop in his bat.”

The Cutters’ lineup surely benefited from his presence. A night after collecting just two hits in a shutout at the hands of the Doubledays, Williamsport matched its season high with 16 hits.

All nine Cutters starters recorded at least one hit. Scheiner, Ortiz, Gurrola and Mims all had multiple hits.

“(Ortiz) makes everyone else around him a little better,” Borders said. “Everyone gets a little bit better pitches, it puts a little more pressure on the pitchers. And when you put pressure on pitchers, they’ll usually make more mistakes.”

Mistakes were something the Cutters pitching staff didn’t have problems with last night. Starter Spencer Howard and reliever Damon Jones combined to strike out 15 Auburn hitters through the first eight innings. Howard, a second-round pick out of Cal-Poly, set a career high with 10 strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.

The right-hander ran his scoreless innings streak to nine before allowing a two-out run in the top of the fifth inning on a Austin Guibor RBI double. Howard utilized a dominant fastball which has been clocked in the mid-90s this year and just seemed to jump on hitters last night.

Of his 10 strikeouts last night, eight were on fastballs, including his first seven. His only hiccup were four walks, the last of which led to the only run he surrendered.

“His fastball was dominant,” Borders said. “It had that late carry, that late life that makes it look a little faster than what it really is. He gets a lot of swings and miss out of it. You can’t teach that.”