In explaining his recent run of success, Orioles rookie David Hess points to the night earlier this month when he was challenged by pitching coach Roger McDowell after a rocky outing in Texas. That’s when McDowell told Hess he was better than he was showing, and it was time for him to have faith in his stuff and perform better.
Now, after the Orioles’ 7-0 win Monday night over the Toronto Blue Jays, Hess has recorded three straight quality starts. He held Toronto scoreless for six innings Monday at Camden Yards, and he held the same Blue Jays to one run over seven innings last Wednesday at Rogers Centre.
“I think more than anything, it’s kind of simplifying the game, and with each pitch trying to be as good as it possibly can be and not thinking too much or too quick,” Hess said.
Hess realizes the last five weeks of the season are important to leave a lasting impression, and he’s beginning to do that by finding a comfortable combination of fastball command and confidence in his breaking ball. Facing a free-swinging Blue Jays lineup for the second straight start Monday also helped.
“I think going into the game, the game plan we had last time worked pretty well, so we didn’t want to change too much until they showed they could beat us at that," Hess said. “So going in, we kind of kept the same kind of attack mode mentality and went right at them and forced them to show us they could handle it.”
The win, which ended the Orioles’ eight-game losing streak, was just their second in 14 games against the Blue Jays this season. Last week, the Orioles concluded their road schedule in Toronto 0-10.
Hess, however, has had success against the Blue Jays. In his past two starts, he’s held Toronto to just one run over 13 innings.
The Orioles (38-94), who recorded their sixth shutout win of the season, broke open a scoreless game with a four-run sixth inning against Blue Jays starter Sam Gaviglio, capped by Trey Mancini’s three-run homer to right-center field. Mancini added a two-run double in the seventh off reliever Danny Barnes. His five RBIs matched a career high.
“It was a great win for us tonight,” Mancini said. “David pitched great, yet again. He’s been doing a great job lately, and it was good to get him some run support tonight because we hadn’t been doing that, and everybody contributed. Everybody that came in the game did a great job, so it was a really good team win tonight.”
Hess (3-8) was coming off an outing in which he held the Blue Jays to one run — coming on hot-hitting slugger Kendrys Morales’ solo homer — over seven innings with a career-high seven strikeouts Wednesday at Rogers Centre. In that game, he retired the first 12 Toronto batters he faced.
On Monday, Hess retired nine of the first 10 batters, but gave up some hard-hit balls — a leadoff double in the fourth inning by Billy McKinney that came off the bat at 103 mph and Russell Martin’s one-out double that thumped off the top of the left-center field fence, missing a home run by just a few feet. Neither runner scored. The Blue Jays stranded six runners — including four in scoring position — against Hess and were 0-for-6 against him with runners in scoring position.
Hess recorded five strikeouts, having faith in his four-seamer to get ahead in counts and setting up his strikeouts with a slider that recorded five swinging strikes.
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Hess said over his past three starts, he’s gained the confidence to throw his offspeed in any count, and with that’s he’s become less reliant on his fastball. He said that comes from three starts ago in Cleveland, when he threw his slider to strike out Indians slugger Yonder Alonso with the bases loaded to get out of an inning.
“I think really we’re just trying to keep hitters off balance,” Hess said. “I’ve been trying to incorporate more off-speed pitches as a whole. I think in the past I’ve thrown maybe too many fastballs, but more than anything, poorly located fastballs, so I’m kind of using the off-speed pitches to give a little bit of an opening for leeway. I think it’s been really big.”
In the fourth inning Monday, Hess stranded McKinney at third, and in the sixth, he escaped a jam with runners at second and third with one out after a four-pitch walk to Morales and a two-out double by Randal Grichuk, inducing an inning-ending groundout from Aledmys Díaz.
The Orioles’ sixth-inning rally was started by a leadoff single by Cedric Mullins and a bunt single by Jonathan Villar. Gaviglio intentionally walked Adam Jones to load the bases for Chris Davis, who hit into an RBI fielder’s choice to break the scoreless tie.
“I think he’s staying in his delivery,” Showalter said. “Roger and them have worked very hard on just, more’s not always better. Don’t try to throw your way out of it. Pitch your way out of it. Understand that hitters up here want to swing, especially as the situation becomes more and more of a return for them.”
Mancini hit a 1-1 slider off the top off the grounds crew shed in right-center field to put the Orioles up 4-0. His two-run double gave him 46 RBIs this season, which ranks second on the club to Adam Jones’ 49. After struggling at the plate for most of the season, Mancini is hitting .296 with seven homers in his past 30 games.
“Trey's got a chance to lead our club in RBIs,” Showalter said. “The level of consistency he had last year, there's another guy with great constitution. A couple of at-bats, it looks like Trey's going to have a tough night there and next thing you know, he's instrumental. I know the three-run homer was big and everything but the ability to give us that cushion, that's something we've done in the past and haven't been good at this year, expand on the lead and make the game a little less anxiety to it.”