Catching up with David Hess
It’s always fun watching all the baseball fans come alive when the clock hits zero and the Lombardi Trophy is presented. Football season has concluded and the sights and sounds of baseball are just beyond the horizon. Eight days from now, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in Sarasota, signaling the start to another baseball season.
As evidenced in the lowest scoring Super Bowl game ever, defense wins championships. Keep your opponent from scoring and trust your offense. It’s a recipe for success that can be duplicated in baseball. A pitcher prevents hitters from scoring and trusting in his offense to score some runs. That’s how you win ballgames.
Unfortunately for the Baltimore Orioles, last season it only worked out that way 29-percent of the time. It was even worse for starting pitchers. Of the 14 starters the Orioles used in 2018, six of them failed to win a game, and those that were victorious only had it happen 28 times.
Last season’s starting rotation went in order of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, Kevin Gausman, Chris Tillman and Mike Wright Jr. A few weeks later, Alex Cobb – as expected – made his way into the rotation, sending Wright to the bullpen. Those are the guys former manager Buck Showalter stuck with until a day-night doubleheader changed that on May 21. Right-handed starter David Hess entered the rotation after receiving the promotion from Triple-A Norfolk.
Hess started nine games with the Tides before making his big league debut. He pitched to a 3.15 ERA in 45.2 innings. He carried an 8.7 strikeout per nine inning rate, while walking 19 of the 198 batters he faced. Hess was able to make 19 starts for the Orioles last season and 21 total appearances. His 2018 didn’t turn out the way he wanted it, but that’s why they say, “there’s always next year.”
Projected to be the fourth starter in the rotation this season, I had the pleasure of chatting with David last week. We talked about how it felt being drafted by the Orioles, his major league debut, getting back on track and what he’s looking forward to in 2019 and beyond.
I always enjoy hearing how a player felt when they were drafted by a big league team. Everything that you’ve worked for since your little league days, throughout high school and college, it all paid off. David’s answer was right along the lines of what I expected to hear. “When I got that call initially I was pretty speechless,” he told me. “The years of working and dreaming about getting the opportunity the Orioles gave me came together and it was exciting to get to join such a great organization and team.”
Hess was drafted in the 5th round of the 2014 Amateur Draft and has made stops at each level of the minors. He really started putting it together in 2017 with Double-A Bowie, but that was only after he had a challenging season in 2016. He played that entire season with the Baysox, appearing in 25 games and started 24. In 127.1 innings, he posted an ERA of 5.37 while long 13 games. He also had the highest WHIP of his career, at 1.579.
The following season though, he was able to drop his ERA down to 3.85, his WHIP down to 1.231, his strikeouts per nine went from 6.0 to 7.2 and he led the Baysox in wins with 11. I asked him what his focus was during the offseason that allowed him to come back a better pitcher and put 2016 behind him.
“My pitching coaches and I worked really hard that year and focused a lot on fastball command,” Hess told me. “Once I was able to spot that where I wanted on a more consistent basis, we started shaping up my off-speed pitches and I learned more about how to sequence at-bats and pitches to be more effective. Everything seemed to come together a lot better that season and the work seemed to pay off a lot and I think a big factor in that was cutting down walks and less competitive pitches and utilizing what I have well. Like I said, my pitching coaches helped a ton and with that guidance I think a lot of the adjustments paid off.”
Adjustments are key to any major league pitcher being successful. Focusing and commanding your own game has to be done in order to be effective. Sometimes it can be challenging though, when your pitcher is out on the hill giving it his all, and the offense is battling through a prolonged slump.
That was certainly the case for Hess last season, as his offense was only scoring 3.5 runs per game for him. I asked him if it was more difficult to be effective when the offense isn’t scoring him any runs.
“I try not to focus as much on that when I’m on the mound. I want to treat every game as if each run makes the difference in the outcome so whether it’s 10-0 or 0-0 my focus is on approaching each batter aggressively and doing what I need to do to get him out.”
Last season was certainly a year to not focus on poor run support. It was one of those seasons that you just want to forget immediately after it’s conclusion and start focusing on the following season. There were some bright spots for Hess though. Out of his 19 starts, he did log eight quality starts and he tossed seven innings in two of them. About his focus heading into camp, he told me, “I think building off of those positive aspects from last year.”
“I’ve been working on a two-seam [fastball] this offseason and am excited to be able to utilize that, but my goal is to show that I’m someone who they know every fifth day is going to go out and give the team a chance to win. [I’m] really focusing on maximizing pitch efficiency and using the information the new coaching staff brings to me and the other pitchers. As we get ready for camp to start more than anything, just doing everything I can to present myself in the best way to be valuable to the team.”
Each player seems to be excited about the new coaching staff. It’s a brand-new era in Baltimore and when I asked David about what he’s looking forward to the most in Sarasota, he said, “I’d probably have to say having a fresh slate.” The moral around camp this season certainly isn’t going to be low-head hanging because the team lost a franchise-worst 115 games last season.
“Last year wasn’t ideal so to be able to have a group of new faces to get to work with and improve is exciting and I know everyone is excited to get to work and surprise people this year. We have a good group of guys that i think will mesh together well and will bring the best out in each other.”