Ortiz finds his role, emerges in UVA 'pen

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- Devin Ortiz was a two-way recruit when he arrived at Virginia in the summer of 2017. He hit .541 at the plate as a high school senior in New Jersey, and went 19-3 on the mound in his high school career.

For most of his first two seasons, Ortiz has been in search of the right role with the UVA baseball program. But after some strong recent performances out of the Wahoos' bullpen in recent weeks, the right-hander is drawing comparisons from his head coach to a recent first-round pick out of Virginia.

"I'm going to first tell you that I wish I would have started pitching him at the beginning of the season. But sometimes out of necessity you find great things, and that is what has happened with Ortiz," Brian O'Connor said after Ortiz threw 3 2/3 shutout innings at VCU on Tuesday.

"It actually happened with Nick Howard in his career too, and he went on to have a great pitching career," added O'Connor, referring to the Cavaliers' former All-American closer who began his UVA career as an infielder, and was a first round pick by the Reds in 2014.

Ortiz gave up just two hits and struck out three in that performance against the Rams. That came two days after the sophomore gave up one unearned run on four hits in two innings at North Carolina last Sunday. And Ortiz was perfect in 4 1/3 relief innings against James Madison last Wednesday, retiring all 13 batters he faced and striking out five.

"Every opportunity, I try to take advantage of each one," Ortiz said after picking up the win against the Dukes. "Just try to do my best each time."

As a freshman, Ortiz saw most of his time as a position player. He hit .167 in 20 games, and made starts in both left field and center field, as well as at designated hitter. He went 1-0 with an 18.90 ERA in 3 1/3 innings in four appearances out of the UVA bullpen.

Ortiz has been in the starting lineup four times this spring -- three times at designated hitter, and once in right field. He's hitting .375 with a home run and three RBI in 16 at-bats. In 26 innings through 13 appearances on the mound, Ortiz is 4-0 with a 2.42 ERA, with 27 strikeouts and just five walks, and his fastball has been clocked in the mid-90s in recent appearances.

"I feel like I've found a role, but every game is different and I'm going to have to continue to throw strikes and just not get too deep into counts," said Ortiz.

O'Connor says Ortiz has been "a real jolt" to the UVA bullpen.

"I think that if the kid continues to work hard and progress, I think he's got a real future in this game on the mound," said O'Connor.

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