You may be surprised to learn that among pitchers still on the team that made starts for the Orioles last year, right-hander David Hess had the lowest ERA at 4.88. Kevin Gausman, since traded, had an ERA of 4.43 in 21 starts for the Orioles.
Plus, Hess had a strong finish. No one is guaranteeing Hess a spot in the rotation for the rebuilding 2019 Orioles. But he certainly has to be a leading candidate to join Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy in that starting five.
Hess certainly had his ups and downs, and gave up too many homers, but he was also someone that really battled and kept working hard to make adjustments and improvements. He gives the team a chance at having a homegrown starter as a fifth-round pick in 2014 out of Tennessee Tech.
Over 21 games and 19 starts, Hess went 3-10 with an ERA of 4.88. His ERA was 4.84 in his 19 starts. He pitched 103 1/3 innings, allowing 106 hits and 22 homers with 37 walks and 74 strikeouts. He gave up a .262 batting average, had a 1.384 WHIP, walked 3.2 per nine innings and fanned 6.4 while producing eight quality starts.
Hess had an ERA of 6.41 on Aug. 3. But in his last nine starts, he went 1-4 with a 3.24 ERA with 16 walks and 40 strikeout in 50 innings and four quality starts. In 11 games after the All-Star break he went 1-5 with a 3.81 ERA and .244 batting average against. If you wanted to see a young pitcher improve, he did.
“Confidence has been a big thing, you know, just picking the brains of the veteran guys,” Hess said of his solid finish. “We made a couple of mechanical changes - nothing major, but just couple of tweaks here and there - and it really allowed me to execute pitches better. Throw them where I want to and be a little safer with the misses we have. The biggest thing is just continue to improve and grind it out each day.”
He did that and Hess’ strong finish included his last two starts versus playoff-bound teams in the Yankees and Astros. He gave up three runs and seven hits over 12 innings.
Hess pitched mostly as a two-pitch pitcher, throwing his four-seam fastball and slider nearly 84 percent of the time combined while spotting in his curve and changeup. Moving forward, maybe he needs to consider a better mix of all four pitches. His slider was a real out pitch and batters hit .225 against it while batting .205 versus his changeup and .222 against the curve.
However, when he made mistakes with the secondaries and his heater, he sometimes paid a price and batters slugged .500 against the change. But those numbers were only .408 versus the slider and .333 off the curveball. Batters slugged .536 off his four-seamer. Location is huge for Hess. If he’s got it, he can beat anyone, as he proved against Houston and New York at the end of the year.
As many pitchers do, Hess saw his struggles the third time facing an order, allowing a .306 batting average and .983 OPS.
But for me, Hess showed enough for the Orioles to want to take a longer look at him as a starter next season. He’s a homegrown Oriole at 25 and he’s proven to be a smart player with plenty of character. He’ll fall on the sword when he doesn’t pitch well and he always seems to be most concerned with the team win or loss before he considers anything about his own game and performance.
Can he be a future rotation piece for the Orioles? Time to find out more during the 2019 season.