Gary Kendall on David Hess and DJ Stewart, plus O’s notes

BOWIE, Md. - While other outfielders on the Orioles farm like Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Randolph Gassaway have gotten some deserved attention this year, the Orioles’ 2015 top draft pick has been quietly having a solid year at Double-A Bowie.

DJ-Stewart-Bowie-swing-sidebar.jpgFlorida State product DJ Stewart is batting .265/.357/.429 with 11 homers, 54 runs, 15 steals and 48 RBIs in 87 games for Bowie.

As the Baysox (51-46) have made a run toward the top of their division over the last month, Stewart has elevated his game. Over his past 30 games, he’s batting .317 with a .410 OBP.

“I think he is also getting better as an outfielder,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said Thursday afternoon. “His routes on fly balls. Offensively, he’s a physical hitter that puts good swings on pitches. He’s handled the breaking ball and the changeup and he’s been able to put the ball in play and drive in runs.

“What was a surprise to me - and I’m elated about it - is the way he runs the bases. And his ability to steal bases. He runs the bases well, first to third, second to home. He is aggressive and will take the extra base and he looks to steal.”

Stewart went hitless in Bowie’s walkoff win over Altoona last night, but he was on the back end of a double steal and stole home to tie the game at 6-6 in the eighth.

“Coming into this year there may have been some skepticism whether he could handle this level,” Kendall said. “He’s probably gotten into the high .240s (with his batting average), but he always seems to get hot and get back up into the .260s and .270s. I like what he has done for us on the bases, he’s a middle-of-the-lineup hitter who handled lefties. His splits against lefties is good. All in all, very pleased. People shouldn’t forget about him. He’s been a real stabilizing force in the middle of our lineup.”

Meanwhile a starting pitcher that may be quietly beginning to put some things together at Bowie is 24-year-old right-hander David Hess. Drafted in round five in 2014, he is 8-5 with an ERA of 4.24 in 19 games. His eight wins are tied for first among O’s minor leaguers and his 84 strikeouts are tied for second.

Hess arrived at Double-A for the first time late in the 2015 season. In two Eastern League playoff games, he went 2-0 with an ERA of 0.64. But his ERA rose to 5.37 with the 2016 Baysox.

He may now be returning to form. He is 2-0 with a 2.59 ERA over his past five starts.

“Two years ago, he had that sensational finish and last year it didn’t go the way he wanted it to go. But he really battled and remained positive,” Kendall said.

“His big thing is his fastball command and his angle to his fastball have been better than last year. He works down in the strike zone more. His breaking balls - both curveball and slider - have been more consistent. He’s really been solid against a right-handed hitting lineup and his changeup has really improved. That gives him a better chance versus lefty hitters. It’s been a nice outpitch against a lefty hitter.”

Kendall said this recent run of solid pitching has Hess at the level he saw in those playoff games when Bowie won the Eastern League title in 2015.

“Yeah. His confidence and his approach are good and he’s a workhorse,” Kendall said. “You just look for him to go seven. If your bullpen is short, you feel good about him going that day. I see a more confident guy out there this year. Even if he has a not great outing, he bounces back quickly and can correct it.”

Baysox reliever turned three-inning starter Jesus Liranzo is lighting up some radar guns in Bowie. During a three-inning scoreless outing last night, he touched 101 mph on the Prince George’s Stadium gun. While that gun may be hot, those that are at Bowie every night tell me it’s not by much. So add Liranzo to lefty Tanner Scott as Bowie pitchers that can hit triple digits with their fastball.

Mountcastle debuts: An impressive Baysox lineup that already includes Hays, Stewart, Mike Yastrzemski, Austin Wynns, Garabez Rosa and Aderlin Rodriguez, added a talented 20-year-old youngster last night. One of the best O’s prospects, infielder Ryan Mountcastle singled on the first pitch he saw in the Eastern League last night and went 1-for-5 in his Bowie debut. He also switched from shortstop to third base. Click here for more on all that from Bowie last night.

O’s keep rolling: When three O’s starting pitchers got bounced around last weekend by the Chicago Cubs, no one could have expected the club to sweep Texas. But after last night’s 9-7 win, that is exactly what the Orioles did. They completed a four-game sweep of the Rangers by a 34-11 score. They beat Texas 3-1 Monday night and then scored 31 runs on 41 hits in the last three games of the series, hitting nine home runs.

Chris Davis had three hits in the four-game series, but all three were home runs. In the last three games, Jonathan Schoop went 7-for-13 with two doubles, a homer and eight RBIs. In those same three games, Adam Jones went 7-for-14 with two homers and five RBIs.

The Orioles took care of business against one team from Texas, but how will they fare against the other when the Houston Astros visit this weekend? At 63-32, Houston easily sports the best record in the American League and leads the AL West by 16 games. If the Orioles were in that division, they would be 17 games out. Houston has an amazing 33-11 road record.

How do the O’s fare in this major test this weekend?

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