BRADENTON, Fla. - As Francisco Cervelli circled the bases today, his fly ball to the opposite field dropping on the other side of the fence, Orioles starter David Hess had to be wondering about his hold on a rotation spot.
Six home runs allowed in his last two outings. All of them in 3 2/3 innings. None of them a good look for a guy trying to convince the new regime that he can be the fourth starter.
Hess spun the story in the opposite direction, making the kind of recovery usually found in horror flicks.
He retired 11 of the last 12 batters faced, the two solo home runs the only real damage. Praise is sure to follow from manager Brandon Hyde, who knows that his quest to stay competitive hinges largely on the rotation.
The Pirates had only three hits off Hess through five innings, the last a Jung Ho Kang double in the second that followed Cervelli’s homer. Cervelli walked with one out in the fourth and was erased on a double play.
Hess allowed nine runs and nine hits, including four home runs, over 2 2/3 innings in his previous start against the Twins in Fort Myers. He couldn’t afford anything close to a repeat.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really thinking about much about last start,” he said. “I was just primarily thinking I wish the wind wasn’t blowing straight out that way. But I got behind in the count, got in a fastball position that (Cervelli) was kind of expecting it and was able to lift it a little bit and take it out. But really, just focusing on getting back to work the next pitch.
“There were a lot of good things to build on today. I got to go down (in the bullpen) and add on a few pitches at the end, so I think really just the amount of work and the quality of it today was good. And I think being able to kind of stretch it out a little bit was really useful today.”
Hess hasn’t been told whether he’s going to pitch again in Florida. If today marked his last outing, he left a much better impression.
“I felt like I personally needed (this),” he said. “Going out last time wasn’t ideal and I wasn’t satisfied with the results, so going out there today we worked in between starts on really staying on my backside, so to be able to go out there and kind of make those adjustments today, I think for me personally that showed the work was paying off.”
Nate Karns replaced Hess and served up Jonah Davis’ second home run of the day to tie the score 3-3. Davis was a late addition to the lineup after the Pirates scratched center fielder Starling Marte, and he took Hess deep in the first.
Hess threw 58 pitches, 38 for strikes. His concluded his day by retiring the side in order on nine pitches, striking out Melky Cabrera and surviving a long fly ball to left by Colin Moran.
Hess did more throwing in the bullpen to get his pitch up to 85, headed back to the clubhouse and waited for the ride back to Sarasota and whatever plans the Orioles have in store for him.
The Orioles don’t need a fifth starter until April 3 and the fourth spot appears to be a two-man race between Hess and Mike Wright. Josh Rogers was supposed to start today, but got bumped to the bullpen due to Tuesday’s rainout.
“Ultimately, I’ve said it all spring, I’m here to compete and it’s above my pay grade to make the decisions of the team,” he said. “So I’ll go out there wherever they feel best and do the best I can to help the team win.”
Hess is carrying his passport with him just in case he’s included on the trip to Toronto for the second series.
“I’ve had it for a few years,” he said. “It’s ready to go. It hasn’t expired, so that’s a plus.”
The Orioles trailed 2-0 until sending nine batters to the plate in the fourth and scoring three runs against Chris Archer. Trey Mancini hit his first spring home run, Rio Ruiz and Joey Rickard had back-to-back doubles and Hanser Alberto lifted a sacrifice fly for a 3-2 lead.
Rickard also doubled in the second and is batting .395.
Mancini was 6-for-27 with one RBI before today. He struck out in his first at-bat, homered to right field in the fourth and singled in the fifth.
The home run drought wasn’t weighing on his mind. He smiled at the mere mention of it.
“It’s not anything I was concerned about whatsoever,” he said. “It’s 20-something at-bats so you kind of have to look at it that way. But, yeah, it felt good. I kind of got a call to go my way before that on the checked swing, I thought it was borderline at best possibly, and I had another chance and took advantage.”
The Orioles scored twice in the ninth on Drew Jackson’s two-run single to take a 5-3 lead.
Andrew Susac was put on second base to start the inning, for whatever reason, and Hanser Alberto singled to move him to third.
Hyde and head athletic trainer Brian Ebel came out in the bottom of the ninth to check on Rogers, who threw a couple of warm-up tosses and stayed in the game. Rogers issued a walk and was removed.
Rogers had tossed a scoreless eighth inning.
Chris Davis struck out in his first three plate appearances, twice looking, and walked in the eighth. He’s 4-for-27 with six walks and 15 strikeouts this spring.
Update: Jung Ho Kang hit a grand slam in the ninth inning off D.J. Snelten and the Orioles lost 7-5.
Final update: Snelton replaced Rogers and hit a batter to load the bases for Kang, who delivered the walk-off. The inning began with another runner put at second base, which is supposed to be done this spring in extras, but games haven’t extended past regulation.
Rogers apparently told Hyde that he wanted to stay in the game.
“He hit a spike on the mound and just like jarred his back a little bit,” Hyde said. “Said he didn’t feel anything on the two warm-ups and I just felt like it wasn’t great when I was watching. It felt like he was kind of moving around a little bit. He’s mad at me right now. But I’m not going to take any chances, so unfortunately, threw the kid out there and Kang got him.”
Hess already was expected to make the club and Hyde basically offered a confirmation.
Asked about the rotation, Hyde said, “Because we have a couple off-days in there, we have some room to wiggle a little bit on some things. He’s definitely going to be a big part. I don’t know if it’s going to be on the first five days or what it’s going to be, but we’re going to figure it out in the next few days.”
So he’s making the team?
“Yeah, I think he’s got a good chance of making the team,” Hyde replied.
Hess made a nice recovery after the second home run.
“I thought Hess was really good,” Hyde said. “I thought he got sharper as the game went on. His pitch count was really low. He finished up in the bullpen. I thought he did a nice job of mixing pitches, especially after the first couple innings. Good life to his fastball, good slider. He did a nice job, especially later on.”