I’m including Ryan O’Rourke in the group of invitees because the Orioles wanted to check on him following ligament-reconstructive surgery on his left elbow that forced him to miss the 2017 season. O’Rourke and Dariel Álvarez, who had the same procedure on his right elbow, are in rehab mode.
David Hess played catch, worked out, participated in fielding drills and met with manager Buck Showalter, pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills. He’s still flying high from the organization’s decision to place him on the 40-man roster prior to the Rule 5 draft.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” he said. “It’s one of those things where it just kind of determines a little bit what your short-term future looks like, in terms of the doors that are opened up a little more. I mean, it’s a really cool opportunity. I’m really honored and humbled to be a part of the Orioles roster and I’m excited to come in and hopefully make an impact as soon as possible and help the team get to a championship.”
Hess, 24, already participated in an Orioles minicamp, so the experience wasn’t new to him. But he took the latest invite as another sign that he’s on the club’s radar, that he isn’t just organizational filler.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Again, it’s a great honor to be here. A lot of great guys in this clubhouse right now and a lot of guys who will impact the team this year, and to be on that list and someone they feel can contribute, it’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun to be here, a lot of fun to get time with these guys and get a little head start on getting to know the coaching staff a little bit. And I’m looking forward to getting to know them more.”
The Orioles were forced to pay closer attention to Hess over the summer as he posted a 3.85 ERA in 27 games at Double-A Bowie. He had a 2.25 ERA and 0.75 WHIP in six August starts and a 3.16 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 10 starts in the second half.
This was a stark and needed contrast from the previous summer, when Hess went 5-13 with a 5.37 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 25 games with Bowie and opponents hit .310 against them. They registered a .235 average last season.
“I think everything just kind of came together,” said Hess, a fifth-round pick in 2015 out of Tennessee Tech. “I know the year before I had kind of a tough year. The learning curve, I learned a ton. I think applying everything early in the year and working on the details of it all with (pitching coach) Kennie Steenstra, I think it all came together. Looking back at that, that’s who I feel I am as a pitcher, so I was using my strengths well and we worked a lot on the weaknesses that I had in that previous year. It all came together.”
Fastball location was the primary issue for Hess.
“I felt like I was able to do that more,” he said. “We worked on tightening up my slider a little bit and created some deception. And then a couple of minor things here and there. Just working out the details of pitching and it all came together and it was a lot of fun to be a part of and we made it to the playoffs. That’s always fun, too.”
Baseball is a game of adjustments. It’s not just a catchy phrase. It happens all the time and Hess was the rule rather than the exception.
Reliever Jimmy Yacabonis certainly can relate to it. The Orioles instructed him to lower his leg kick after they promoted him to the majors. They endorsed more of a slide step while efforts continued to improve his control.
Left-hander Keegan Akin, a second-round pick in 2016, talked at minicamp about “little things” he implemented over the course of the season.
“You’d be surprised how a little adjustment can affect where the ball’s going,” he said.
One adjustment involved his foot placement on the mound, the tinkering done in May while he pitched at Single-A Frederick.
“Kind of helped me a little bit during the season,” he said.
But why stop there? The fall instructional league provided another opportunity as he recovered from a strained oblique muscle.
“It was my glove side and that’s where we think the injury occurred,” he said. “I was just kind of flying open on the front side, so we made it a little bit stronger and kept it closed off and it paid off.”
The Orioles anticipated that Akin and pitcher Cody Sedlock, drafted in the first round, would race through the system, but injuries ruined those plans. Sedlock twice went on the Keys’ disabled list with tightness in his forearm/elbow area, but he’s find now and will report to early minor league camp on Feb. 18.
“I don’t know. Anything can happen at this point,” Akin said.
“We’re both young, we both didn’t have the seasons that we wanted to, so I think it’s just really going to depend on this season and how we start. If we start strong we could move up. If we struggle we will stay where we’re at.
“We keep in touch once in a while, shoot a text back and forth and see how each other’s doing. He’s doing good. He’s been working out. I know he’s been off a while and he’s excited to get back into it.”
Shameless plug alert: I’m back with Jim Hunter for tonight’s “Orioles Hot Stove Show” from 6-7 p.m. at the Orioles Grille inside the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel. McDowell and reliever Mychal Givens will call into the show. I’ll pretend that I didn’t talk to them earlier this week.