When David Hess made his first few starts in mid-May, he appeared to be something the Orioles desperately needed. The rookie won two of his first three decisions, and pitched at least six innings in four of his first five starts.
Unfortunately, his time as a quality, home-grown starting pitcher was short lived. Things with Hess eventually went the way most things did in Baltimore, but there were certainly a few bright spots along the way.
The Orioles selected Hess in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB draft. Believe it or not, a draft class that was headlined by Pat Connaughton hasn’t had a huge impact on the big league club. Baltimore selected relief pitcher Tanner Scott, another pitcher who had an up-and-down season, in the sixth round of the 2014 draft.
Hess worked his way through the Orioles system throughout the years. He made his first appearance at Bowie in 2015 before spending all of 2016 and 2017 with the Baysox. Hess finally put things together at Double-A with an 11-9 record and a 3.85 ERA in 2017.
Hess made six starts at Norfolk in 2018 before getting the call to the show. In his final start before the promotion on May 8, he allowed only one hit in seven innings against the Durham Bulls. Outside of a five-run blemish, he only allowed two runs in his five other starts.
A month after working six strong innings in his major league debut, Hess began a severe downslide on June 12 against the Red Sox. He allowed five runs in 3.1 innings, and began a five game streak of allowing at least five runs. He was called on to make a relief appearance on July 4, and allowed two runs in two innings. His ERA surpassed six on Independence Day, and it peaked at 6.41 after another loss on August 3.
Hess allowed seven runs, five earned, in 3.1 innings in a loss to Texas on the third. The defeat brought his record to 2-6, and people began to question why Hess was still in Baltimore’s rotation.
The Tennessee native bounced back, and began to give the club a reason to keep him in their future plans. The start in Texas was the last time he would allow five earned runs in a game, and he only allowed more than three one time for the remainder of the season.
With his strong September, Hess reduced his ERA to 4.88. Is it going to turn any heads? Of course not. But there’s something to be said about a guy taking his lumps and then finishing strong.
Hess will be considered for the rotation next year, and it’s difficult to think of a scenario where he doesn’t get the ball every fifth day. It’s not so much a credit to Hess, but a question of who would take his place. The Orioles already have spots to fill in the rotation. After dealing Kevin Gausman and shutting down Andrew Cashner, the Birds had a difficult time finding guys to finish out the season.
The Orioles should sign a veteran arm or two to eat innings, but they certainly will not be in the market for a big name or anyone with a significant price tag. It’s not a question of “Why Hess?” as much as it’s “Who else besides Hess?”
As an affordable arm that has years of club control, Hess will be in the rotation for as long as he’s serviceable. Hopefully, by the time the Orioles are contenders again, the club will have several young arms trying to force their way into the picture (one can hope, right?). Hess has a few years to prove he belongs in a starting rotation for a contender.