Los Angeles Angels fans who were unaware of right-hander Oliver Ortega before Wednesday night likely weren’t alone. Joe Maddon probably wasn’t fully aware of him until last week, when he was made one of the two Sep. 1 call-ups as the rosters expanded from 26 to 28.
Ortega has had a long and winding journey to get to his MLB debut against the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He has been with the organization since he was 18 years old in 2015, when the Dominican Republic native signed with the team and played with the DSL Angels.
After back injuries, a pandemic, and five Minor League seasons of work, we fast forward to the Angels 8-5 loss to the Padres. Ortega — making his MLB debut — threw 1.1 scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out one batter.
Maddon was impressed by what he saw out of Ortega, who has a lively fastball but has often struggled with command issues, according to Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com:
“I told [pitching coach Matt] Wise, ‘He’s going to be OK,’ and he was OK,” Maddon said. “I know he’s had control problems in the past, but not tonight. I mean, he had a dynamic curveball and a big fastball. He’s not a tall guy, but he’s very focused out there. He was outstanding.”
For Ortega, the night could not have been better. Even without helping the Angels secure a win, the 24-year old pitcher was ecstatic to be a part of things this season.
“It was a fantastic feeling,” Ortega said through an interpreter. “I had the count 3-2, and I gave it all I had. I had been preparing for my name to be called. It was a beautiful night for me.”
Ortega became the 62nd player to take the field for the Angels this season, adding to an already-set franchise record. It wasn’t the most ideal circumstances for a player to make his debut, but Ortega absolutely made the most of it.
As the Angels formulate their ideas for a 26-man roster next season, every moment matters. Ortega’s performance on Wednesday — and whatever he does for the rest of the season — will have a direct impact on where he lands at the start of 2022.
Alex Cobb making progress towards return
Part of the reason Ortega was able to get into the game against the Padres was because of a forced bullpen game. The Angels did not have an available starter. This could change soon when Alex Cobb eventually makes his return.
Unlike some of the other injured Angels players that may be out for the season, Cobb still firmly believes he will pitch again in 2021. It’s unclear at this point whether or not he’ll need a rehab assignment.