It doesn’t take much for a pitcher’s earned run average to jump from impressive to cringe worthy. Through five starts, rookie David Hess held a 3.07 ERA, and appeared to be emerging as a hidden gem in an otherwise barren Baltimore farm system. Five games later, Hess’s ERA had ballooned to over six, and he found himself on the shuttle back to Norfolk.
Everyone knows that baseball is a game of adjustments. A hitter will see a pitcher better the third time through the lineup as opposed to the first, and the league will likely have more success against a pitcher after a few games of film are readily available. But starting on June 12, Hess surrendered five runs or more in every outing, and failed to pitch six innings in any of his four starts. He capped his first run in Baltimore by surrendering two runs in two innings of relief in Philadelphia on Independence Day.
Essentially, Hess’s issues appeared to be greater than opposing clubs familiarizing themselves with the 25-year-old righty from Tennessee. By default, Hess has been labeled a contact pitcher. But in all reality, I have no idea if that is by design. With a WHIP of 1.531, he’s no stranger to base runners. However, his biggest issue may be an inability to put hitters away.
In nine starts, Hess’s career high in strikeouts-per-game is only four. He reached that total three times this season, but few will call it a major accomplishment. There’s no question that Hess needs to develop an out pitch. In multiple games, his inability to strikeout batters not only resulted in more opportunities for the opposition, but it also limited Hess’s longevity. After several long at bats that featured a plethora of foul balls against Atlanta in late June, Hess had to leave the game after throwing 93 pitches in only four innings.
With Hess refining his game in the minors, other Oriole prospects like Yefry Ramirez will have a chance to showcase their talents with the big club. But will Hess work his way back to Baltimore before the season’s end? I wouldn’t be surprised. Before that happens, he’ll need to make a few key adjustments.
When the Orioles made the decision to remove Hess from the rotation, he only made one relief appearance before being sent back down. The Orioles certainly feel that Hess will develop better getting to work consistently as a starter at Triple-A Norfolk, as opposed to spotty mop-up duty in Baltimore. Buck Showalter was extremely candid when discussing what Hess needed to do to make his way back to the show.
Showalter pointed to fastball command as a point of focus for Hess. If the righty is not going to rack up a high number of strikeouts, than he needs to be able to get ahead in the count. It’s difficult enough trying to work from behind as a pitcher, but it’s next to impossible to do so if you don’t have swing-and-miss stuff.
Buck also instructed Hess to work on his changeup as a potential KO pitch. As simplistic as it sounds, using the fastball to get ahead and the change up as an out pitch works when it’s done right. Hess has never appeared to be self-conscious about his fastball, and Showalter made a point to say he appreciates the rookie’s confidence, so a strong changeup would go a long way for the righty.
Hess turned 25 yesterday, and the former fifth round pick still has time to develop, but obviously he wants to be in Baltimore. With the trade deadline looming, the Orioles could very likely have an influx of young starting pitchers entering the system. Hess is not on the clock, and he’ll likely return to Baltimore at some point this year, but he could soon be competing for a roster spot with some new faces along with the usual suspects.
Unlike Mike Wright, who has fit nicely in the Orioles bullpen, Hess does not profile as a backend of the bullpen arm. He’ll need to make the necessary adjustments in Norfolk, and hope for an opportunity to demonstrate them in the bigs.
Hess struggled in his first start back with the Tides, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him settle back into a groove. On a team this far out of contention, the Orioles will certainly look to be taking stock of all their assets. That should include taking a second look at Hess at the big-league level.