Hess was making his 12th of the 19 starts during the 2018 season. He had allowed a two-run homer in the first inning and was in more trouble in the last of the third. With two outs, he issued two walks around a hit batsman and up came Yonder Alonso with the bases loaded looking to break the game open. Hess fanned Alonso and even though the Orioles lost that game 2-1, he went on to pitch to an ERA of 3.05 over his last eight starts, beginning with that outing against the Indians.
One pitch indeed went a long way, Hess said last week on the “Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“I think there was a definitive turning point for me and that was in Cleveland,” said Hess, who went 3-10 with a 4.88 ERA in 21 games. “There was a bases-loaded, full-count pitch to Yonder Alonso and I struck him out to end the inning. The thing that made it such a big turning point for me, I didn’t even call the slider. Caleb (Joseph) called it. When I realized that other people were having the trust in me that I should have in myself and that I do have in myself, it really makes a difference how you perceive yourself on the mound and the confidence you can pitch with.
“I think from that point forward, it really was just an opportunity to take a step back and say ‘OK, I can do this. Other people see that I can do this, so just go and do it.’ “
Hess gained confidence that day as he fully realized that others believed in him.
“The simple answer is just going out there and being more confident and being more relaxed,” Hess said. “But I think when you go into the depth of it, that was kind of the point where I think I realized that other people feel I belong. Now we can really get to working on the details of everything. Fine tuning off-speed pitches, working on fastball location. The things that you need to do to be successful. We had a great staff of guys that helped me out as well.”
Hess finished the year allowing just three runs over 12 innings in his last two starts versus the Yankees and Astros, two playoff-bound teams. He also went 3-4 with a 3.51 ERA in 10 starts versus American League East opponents. He is a strong contender to break north on opening day with a starting rotation spot.
But in speaking about gaining confidence from others, Hess cited a conversation he had in Bowie during the 2016 season, a year where he went 5-13 with a 5.37 ERA for the Baysox.
“When I was in Double-A, I had Alan Mills as a pitching coach and it was a difficult year for me,” Hess said. “I remember he was like, ‘Do you realize how good you are?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty good, I’m at this level.’ He said, ‘No, no, you’re a major league pitcher and you can do this. And I can tell you that as much as I want, but until you believe that, nothing anyone else says matters.’ I think that is something that every player has to go through. The guys that excel truly believe how good they are. They recognize how good they can be and that is what they work toward.”
So for Hess, the 2018 season resulted in a strong finish after a poor start. Well a poor start to a start. In his major league debut on May 12, Hess started against Tampa Bay. He got Denard Span out to begin his big league career, but two singles followed. Then cleanup hitter Matt Duffy rocketed a three-run homer off a 94 mph first-pitch fastball. Four batters in, Hess was down 3-0.
“When that happened, I was standing out there thinking, ‘Now you are being tested and have an opportunity to show what you’re made of.’ That kind of got the jitters out a little bit,” Hess said. “To be able to bounce back showed a lot about what I pride myself in. And we got the win that day and that is what matters the most.”
Yep, they did win. He threw scoreless ball the rest of the way, went six innings and got his first major league win as the Orioles took a 6-3 victory.
Now fast-forward to today. Hess is enjoying some decent weather this offseason in South Carolina where he and his wife purchased their first home recently. He’ll report to spring training in a few weeks and try to win a starting five spot.
“I got a phone call from (Orioles manager) Brandon Hyde and I was real excited to talk to him,” Hess said. “He seems like a great guy, a great fit. So, I’m really excited to see the direction he takes the team. And I know Mike (Elias), just seeing from a distance what he is doing and how he is operating, I’m really excited about him as well. I’m excited to be a part of it and more than anything I just want to be a contributing factor that helps this team win.”