Mortensen spins shutout in first start

Stone Crabs right-hander goes from indy league to Minors

Jared Mortensen has not given up a run in his first nine innings. (Walt Tenery/Grand Prairie AirHogs)

By Ashley Marshall / | August 21, 2013 9:26 PM ET

Jared Mortensen has been logging the miles and shattering stereotypes in pursuit of his dream.

Born in British Columbia to a father who turned down a shot at a professional hockey contract to raise a family, Mortensen never followed in his dad's footsteps to strap on skates. He excelled in soccer, arguably the No. 2 sport in the province, but it was always baseball that held the tightest grip.

"The baseball up there is secondary, maybe third," Mortensen said. "You don't hear a lot of people coming from where I'm from to play baseball, maybe Justin Morneau or Brett Lawrie."

Now, under the sunshine of Florida's west coast, he's closer to his ambition of becoming a Major Leaguer than ever before.

Mortensen pitched a complete-game two-hitter in his first Minor League start Wednesday night as Class A Advanced Charlotte blanked Fort Myers, 6-0, to complete a sweep of its doubleheader.

The 25-year-old right-hander issued a pair of walks, struck out four batters and needed 107 pitches to go the distance, although the journey is just as symbolic as the result.

After graduating high school in 2006, Mortensen took 18 months away from baseball to see whether it would become his career. The lure of the game pulled him to the Prairie Baseball Academy at Alberta's Lethbridge Junior College in 2008. After two seasons playing right field, the exercise science major transferred to Mount Olive University, a small liberal arts college roughly 2,400 miles and three time zones away in North Carolina where he would shift to the mound.

After a disappointing spring semester that saw few pitching opportunities and the threat of a reduced scholarship the following year, he headed to Louisiana State University-Shreveport.

Upon graduating LSU last year, Mortensen played summer ball for the Lethbridge Bulls. It marked the third time in four years that he tried to draw the attention of professional scouts. When the phone didn't ring for another summer, he coached baseball at a Shreveport high school.

In January, he latched on with the Grand Prairie AirHogs, an independent league team based in northeastern Texas. And last week, he got a voice voicemail from Rays assistant for Minor League operations Jeff McLerran, saying the organization needed some arms to help the playoff runs of various affiliates.

"It means a lot," Mortensen said. "There were several times I could have given up because I had put everything into baseball and got nothing out of it. But if I had given up, I wouldn't be here right now. It's one of the best decisions I've ever made."

McLerran called Mortensen on the morning of his final scheduled start for the AirHogs. He rushed to fill out forms and send the paperwork back to the Rays, who wanted him to fly to Tampa that day. Mortensen pitched his last game for Grand Prairie and was on a plane from Amarillo within 24 hours.

After pitching two innings in his Minor League debut on Saturday, he set down the first five batters on Wednesday before issuing consecutive two-out walks in the second.

Dalton Hicks broke up the no-hit bid with a one-out double in the fourth and Jairo Rodriguez threatened to end the shutout with a leadoff double in the fifth.

"I didn't have all my stuff working, but I kept the hitters off-balance and I threw strikes, which was good," Mortensen said. "I think it was about average. I wasn't nervous. I played independent ball and got roughed up to start, but I learned to get rid of nerves really quickly.

"I was coming out of college thinking I could throw low 90s past everybody and I got hit. Once I learned to keep the ball down, it all made sense."

Mortensen retired his final nine batters in order, inducing three groundouts in the seventh frame to finish off the 13th complete-game shutout in the Florida State League this season.

"He missed a few [cutters], but it's hard to be perfect in this game," Stone Crabs pitching coach Bill Moloney said. "He's not going to light up a radar gun -- he was 88-90 mph, 91 tops -- but he located his fastball well and he expanded the zone when he needed to. ... He stranded the runners both times."

"Obviously, it was his first start in [the Minors], but I was very pleased with the work he did. It was good for the kid, good for us, good for everybody. What I saw was a good mound presence. He carried himself the right way out there and he commanded his fastball. He threw a cutter, a changeup and a curveball and kept the hitters off-balance. He looked like a seasoned vet."

Signed by the Rays to a Minor League deal on Aug. 15, Mortensen was 4-6 with a 3.76 ERA and 94 strikeouts over 100 1/3 innings with Grand Prairie.

"It appears that he's a good kid who, somewhere along the line, picked up a pretty good work ethic. I don't see any problems," Moloney said. "If he continues like this, we will look to bring him back next year and give him a chance to make a team. He's in a position to make a name for himself."

In the opener, Rays No. 10 prospect Drew Vettleson delivered a walk-off single in the ninth to give the Stone Crabs a 2-1 win.

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @AshMarshallMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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