BOWIE, Md. - As the Double-A Bowie Baysox face a must-win situation tonight against the Reading Fightin Phils, they turn to a 22-year-old right-hander that had an ERA of 5.83 at Single-A Frederick in June.
After last night’s loss, Bowie trails Reading 2-1 in the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series. The Baysox need to win tonight and tomorrow to claim their first league championship.
Before you think tonight’s starter could be overmatched against a prospect-laden Reading team, keep in mind that right-hander David Hess was the Orioles’ minor league Pitcher of the Month for both July and August.
He turned around his season in a big way and earned a late-year promotion to Bowie. In his last two Baysox starts, including a playoff-clinching win last Saturday versus Altoona, Hess has worked 13 2/3 innings, allowing just five hits and one run.
Drafted in the fifth round in June 2014 out of Tennessee Tech, Hess has been on an incredile roll since late June. Over his last 15 starts for Frederick and Bowie, he is 9-1 with a 1.61 ERA and has allowed one earned run or less 11 times. Yes, he’s been that good.
I asked Bowie manager Gary Kendall about Hess, who was ranked as the Orioles’ No. 20 prospect at the end of 2014 by Baseball America. He is rated as the O’s No. 10 prospect currently by MLBPipeline.com.
“He does repeat his delivery well and he can pound the bottom of the zone with strikes,” Kendall said. “He’s got a nice curveball and changeup and good slider. I think sometimes you can use your fastball more at lower levels than here. In his first outing here he threw 16 straight fastballs in the first inning and now he is becoming more of a pitcher up here and you have to.
“There is some effort there on his delivery but if he gets a good angle on his fastball, he can be tough to hit. He’s a very self-confident kid and he appears to have a very resilient and durable arm.”
Now Hess will try to slow down a Reading team that scored nine runs last night and led the Eastern League in runs scored in the regular season. The Reading lineup features shortstop J.P. Crawford, rated as the No. 5 prospect in baseball by MLBPipeline.com and outfielder Nick Williams, who is ranked No. 59.
Bowie came from behind to win its series with Altoona and lost the first game of this series. Now the Baysox have to come from behind in a series again. They are one win from their season being over and two wins from winning a championship.
Tonight the Baysox face right-hander Ben Lively who went 8-7 with a 4.13 ERA in 2015. He pitched to an ERA of 5.27 in the second half and that included a start on Aug. 27 against the Baysox. In that one he gave up three runs over five innings, including home runs to Quincy Latimore and Mike Yastrzemski.
Reading won the series opener at home 3-1 on Wednesday night, then Bowie evened this series with a 10-3 victory on Thursday and Reading prevailed 9-3 last night. If Bowie wins tonight, the Baysox would force a fifth and deciding game which would be played in Bowie on Saturday at 6:05 p.m.
Good start for Bowie: The Baysox have jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one inning tonight. In the last of the first, Garabez Rosa’s bases-loaded double scored two and Chance Sisco’s sac fly made it a 3-0 lead. Hess saw the first two runners reach on a single and error in the top of the first but fanned two and pitched out of that jam.
In the fourth: Reading used a walk and single to put runners at the corners and then a Hess wild pitch plated the Fightin Phils first run. Bowie leads 3-1 in the last of the fourth.
Lead is three again: A Trey Mancini RBI single scored Joseph, who had doubled, in the fifth for the 4-1 Bowie lead. Hess has allowed just three hits on 89 pitches through the sixth and Bowie holds that three-run edge in the seventh.