Right-hander David Hess was looking for a bounce-back effort after giving up nine runs in his previous Grapefruit League start, and, after allowing a couple of early home runs Thursday, it didn’t look good.
He’s competing for one of the last spots in the Orioles’ season-opening starting rotation, so giving up two more homers after allowing four in his previous start certainly didn’t figure to help.
Hess could have unraveled at that point, but he pulled himself together and retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced to keep turn a scary start into a solid performance in the Orioles’ 7-5 walk-off loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park.
How solid? Perhaps solid enough to hold onto one of those rotation slots, but Hess was more focused on just getting himself back together and getting stretched out. He threw some extra pitches in the bullpen and finished with about 85 in what could be his final appearance of the spring.
“To be honest, I wasn’t really wasn’t thinking much about the last start,” he said. “Primarily, I was thinking I wish the wind wasn’t blowing straight out that way...But really just focusing on getting back to work on the next pitch.”
He was able to do that at a critical time in the evaluation process this spring. There are only a handful of exhibition games left and the team’s choices for the back-end starters have narrowed. Opening Day starter Alex Cobb, Andrew Cashner and Dylan Bundy are set, while Mike Wright and Hess seem to be in good position to fill out the rotation.
That assumes there will be a fifth starter, which is not a given since the Orioles have not ruled out employing the “opener” concept to fill one or two of the starting slots.
Manager Brandon Hyde wouldn’t rule anything entirely in or out after the game, but he did say that Hess likely will make the team either as a starter or a reliever.
“Because we have a couple off days in there, so we’re going to have some room to wiggle a little bit on some things,’’ Hyde said. “He’s definitely going to be a big part. I don’t know if it’s going to be the first five days or what it’s going to be, but we’re going to figure that out in the next few days.”
So does that mean he is going to break camp with the major league club?
“Yeah,” Hyde said. “I think he’s got a good chance to make the team.”
Hess doesn’t know how things will play out, but he was happy that — if this was his final spring outing — he finished strong.
“I think there was a lot of things to build on today and I got to go down and add on a few pitches at the end,” he said. “So I think the amount of work and the quality of it was good, and being able to stretch it out a little bit was really useful today.”
If Hess believes that he has won a big-league rotation spot, he’s not letting on and the only thing that has been officially announced is Cobb’s Opening Day assignment.
“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,” Hess said, “so I’ll go out there where ever they feel is best and do the best that I can to help the team win.”
The Orioles scored two runs in the ninth on a single by Drew Jackson to break a 3-3 tie in an inning that featured the automatic leadoff runner at second base for both teams. The new rule was supposed to be tested to speed up extra-inning games, but is being employed by mutual managerial consent in the ninth because teams generally suspend games that are tied after the ninth.
The Pirates took even greater advantage of the experimental rule, loading the bases with no one out and winning when third baseman Jung Ho Kang hit a walk-off grand slam with one out off minor league reliever D.J. Snelten.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.