Orioles rookie right-hander David Hess, with eight major league starts now behind him, is far beyond his "Welcome to the Show" moment. He got it in his first major league inning when he allowed a home run to the third batter he faced.
Now, it's about staying here, and the moment that illustrated just how tough that can be to do came in the third inning of a 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday that denied the Orioles (23-53) a series sweep at SunTrust Park and consigned them to 3-3 on their travels, still their first non-losing road trip of the season.
With one on and one out and the Braves ahead, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis worked Hess for a nine-pitch at-bat and doubled off the right-field wall to score the first of three runs in the inning that ultimately decided the game.
All game, the Braves ticked off pitches from Hess for foul balls and made him throw 93 in four innings, a symptom of his inability to put them away. And when he needed to put them away, as he tried six times to do to Markakis with two strikes, manager Buck Showalter said, his command failed him some.
“Mistakes really get magnified at this level,” Showalter said. “He’s shown what he’s capable of doing and he’s shown the other side of it, what happens up here when you don’t command the baseball. It’s not just throwing a strike, it’s throwing a quality strike. But he’ll bounce back. He’s a tough kid.”
Hess looks at that at-bat to Markakis as a missed opportunity. Three batters into the game, he was down 2-0, but he limited the damage in the first inning and had gotten into a bit of a groove when Markakis came up.
He lost a curveball for ball one to open the at-bat, then dropped a second one into the strike zone to even the count. Markakis fell behind 1-2 with a high fastball in the zone, then Hess went back to the well with another one that was elevated too much to even the count.
Markakis then fouled off three straight pitches — another curveball in the zone, a center-cut fastball, then another elevated one on the outer half that Markakis fought off. Hess yanked a slider at Markakis’ feet for ball three before going back to the well one too many times with the curveball, one Markakis smacked off the right-field wall for a double.
A few aspects of it stand out, beginning with how Hess threw only five curveballs all day, and four came in that at-bat. He also stayed away from his changeup, which got four swinging strikes and three field outs on 19 tries. And when it came time for the payoff pitch, it was a curveball that Markakis had already seen three times and wasn't going to miss again.
The Orioles lose to the Braves, 7-3, but have their first non-losing road trip. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
“He's a pesky hitter,” Hess said. “He puts up good at-bats and is just a quality guy. He definitely did foul off some good pitches, and the full-count curveball he got me on. I think just getting that down in the zone a little bit more, and that goes back to the execution — I think just making quality pitches, and the results are a little bit different.”
The Braves scored three times in that inning, with Charlie Culberson doubling to score two more. Hess lasted one more inning, and left having allowed five runs in four innings on seven hits with a pair of walks in what amounted to a homecoming game for the Tennessee native who grew up just a few hours north of Atlanta. His ERA is 5.44, and some of the fears evaluators had about whether he had a true major league out pitch are showing up as the league gets a look at him.
“You look at the strikes thrown in the outing, it’s OK, but he’s wild in the strike zone,” Showalter said. “You look at where he’s trying to go. He’s a pretty straight-fastball guy, which really makes him need to be real good with his command. What will get you in trouble here is wild in the strike zone, because everybody’s got … some guys you can rock back and forth, but most guys have one side of the plate they’re a lot better at. If you can take advantage of it, it opens up the breaking ball, too. A lot of pitches in a short period of time.”
Hess, who had 3.07 ERA before allowing five runs in his past three starts — none longer than 4 1/3 innings — knows better is required.
“The results speak for themselves,” Hess said. “They're definitely different, but I think just executing pitches, I think I haven't done it as well the past few starts. … I think it's just the initial kind of awe of everything wears off and now you realize that you still have to work and you still have to do everything that you did to get you to this point. I think whenever you come up initially, you get that adrenaline rush. That sometimes can last for a while. I think just kind of getting back to what worked to begin with.”
Even as Mike Wright Jr. pitched three scoreless innings to keep the game close before a two-run home run by Dansby Swanson off Brad Brach put the game out of reach in the eighth inning, the Orioles couldn't build an inning as they did earlier in the series to rally.
All three Orioles runs scored on home runs, with Trey Mancini homering in his return to the lineup as part of a two-hit day and Mark Trumbo coming off the bench for a two-run home run as a pinch-hitter in the fifth inning, giving him five homers in seven games and an eight-game hitting streak.
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