With his socks always worn high, occasional eye black on his face and a uniform consistently with a shade of brown integrated on it, Tyler Bortnick embodies what Biscuits manager Billy Gardner refers to as a "blue-collar type player."
Coming into the 2012 season, the scrappy Biscuits second baseman didn't just look the part. For High-A Charlotte, Bortnick batted .306, had a .428 on-base percentage, scored 96 runs and stole 43 bases.
Bortnick, a Florida State League All-Star last year, was a fixture atop the Charlotte lineup, as he batted second, behind shortstop Hak-Ju Lee.
With both players promoted to his roster this season, Gardner had every intention to feature the double-play partners the same way in his lineup. Bortnick intended on batting in that spot for a while, too.
"I was planning on hitting in the two-hole the whole season," Bortnick says. "But sometimes a manager makes a decision and you just got to make the most of it and do the best you can in the situation you are in."
For the first 35 games of the season, Bortnick batted second and had a .202 batting average.
On May 11, outfielder Ty Morrison was promoted from Charlotte to Montgomery. A top of the lineup type hitter, Morrison batted .281 and stole 11 bases for the Stone Crabs.
"The Morrison kid is another speedy guy and he had success and we wanted to see what he could do," Biscuits hitting instructor Ozzie Timmons says.
That night Gardner replaced Bortnick with Morrison in the two-hole of his lineup card. Bortnick was moved to fifth and has hit in that spot or later since.
"It worked for me my whole life but this year I just wasn't seeing the ball as well," Bortnick says. "I've been a two-hitter my whole life. I do like to hit with guys on base though."
The altered lineup, according to Bortnick, told him that he needed to drive in some runs.
He has responded with a .333 batting average, three home runs and 17 RBI since being moved down in the order.
"I'm leading the team in RBI  so I guess I'm a run producer," Bortnick says. "But I still see myself as someone who can get on base and cause havoc on the bases."
The Ohio-native has maintained a high on-base percentage, .347, and has stolen five bases to add to his total of 15 on the season while batting lower in the order.
"I'm the same guy I used to be," he says.
The run production, according to Timmons, has more to do with the situations the 24- year-old hitter now finds himself in as opposed to being a table-setter.
"It takes a little pressure off him and it gives him a chance to relax," Timmons says. "He doesn't have to take pitches for Lee to steal a base and now he can be a lot more aggressive."
Bortnick, who batted .179 in April, attributed some of his early struggles to the adjustment of playing in Double-A for the first time.
"It's the closest to the big leagues that I've faced," he says. "This is the best for sure. It takes a little to get used to. Seeing pitchers a second time around definitely helps."
While Bortnick has raised his average to .253 in 25 games since he was dropped, the Biscuits (31-29) have gone 15-10.
Despite the initial struggles of Morrison — he has .233 batting average and a .295 on- base percentage in his first 103 at-bats with the Biscuits — and Bortnick's resurgence, the coaching staff is content with leaving the lineup as is, at least for now.
"I wouldn't change it," Timmons says. "He's driving in runs, which is what we need. But will he be a prototypical two-hitter in the big leagues? Who knows. Will he be batting fifth or sixth? Probably not."
Will Sammon is the Montgomery Biscuits beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @WillSammon.
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