Rafael Ortega making the most of his opportunity with Cubs
WASHINGTON D.C. — Rafael Ortega is taking his opportunity and running with it.
Actually, he’s hitting it out of the park, figuratively and literally.
Ortega made history Sunday afternoon at Nationals Park, hitting 3 home runs and driving in all 5 runs in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss in the series finale against Washington. It was the 43rd time in franchise history a player had a 3-home run game and first since Kris Bryant on May 17, 2019, also in Washington.
Ortega was the first Cubs lefty to have a 3-homer game since Brant Brown on June 18, 1998 against the Phillies.
“This is incredible, really,” Ortega said. “It’s something that you don’t think it can happen, especially to me. I thank God for letting me continue this run that I’m on right now, to continue doing what I’m doing. I really dedicate this to God first and my family, especially my family in Venezuela.”
With the flurry of moves that the Cubs made at the trade deadline, it created open spots for players to step up and prove they can be everyday big leaguers.
Sunday’s performance was the cherry on top of a strong July for Ortega.
He hit .368 and had a .963 OPS last month and figures to see more regular playing time in the Cubs outfield the last two months of the season.
“It’s sad to see the stars go, the players that we’ve had here and what they did,” Ross said. “But I think it also gives me and the other players an opportunity to take advantage of it and stake our position here with the team.”
For now, that means Ortega proving his worth as a center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Cubs. Hitting atop the batting order, he has a .400 average with a .432 OBP, 1.204 OPS and 7 RBI.
“I think we need to take advantage of that, and I think also continue the legacy that the players that were here and what the stars did,” Ortega said. “I think that’s on us to continue.”
Part of his success comes from his patience at the plate.
Ortega is averaging 4.12 pitches per plate appearance, above the league average of 3.91. He has a 78.8% contact percentage this season.
David Ross had high praise for the newest arm in his bullpen — Codi Heuer.
“I feel like he’s probably our most dominant right-handed pitcher down there versus righties,” Ross said Sunday afternoon.
He showed that belief Saturday night.
Ross brought in Heuer to try and escape out of a bases-loaded, no out jam. Heuer showed his mettle, escaping the pickle while allowing only 1 run.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Heuer said. “Thrown right in the fire with the bases loaded. Anytime I can help a guy get out of the jam and help a team win a game, it’s a good day.”
Sunday, he showed his moxie in another high-leverage situation. In a tie game in the 8th with runners on first and second and 1 out, Heuer induced a groundball double play to Josh Bell to escape the inning.
Those are the types of moments he’s ready to take on.
“I think the bullpen’s kinda finding a lot of their roles, I think we’re gonna see how that goes in the upcoming games,” Heuer said. “As of now, settle in some high-leverage roles and wouldn’t want it anyway.”
—Ross said he thinks Justin Steele is getting closer to being a part of the big-league rotation sooner rather than later.
“I can’t tell you whether he’s gonna start here with us or them next, but he’s definitely getting close,” Ross said. “He’s definitely on track to get here sooner rather than later.”
—Nico Hoerner, who was placed on the 10-day IL on July 29 with a right oblique strain, is still getting treatment for the injury and has not started baseball activities.