Orioles right-hander David Hess made his major league debut last season in the opening game of a rain-prompted doubleheader. Wednesday, he’ll make his first start since the anniversary of that performance in the same situation.
Hess’ first major league outing came May 12, 2018, when he held the Tampa Bay Rays to three runs in six innings. Heavy rain in New York on Monday postponed his start against the Yankees, and with a year of major league knowledge, he’ll take the mound for Game 1 of Wednesday’s doubleheader after consecutive rainouts.
Although Hess doesn’t have a full year of major league service time — his debut came as the doubleheader’s 26th man, and he was sent back to the minors afterward — the 25-year-old said he’s learned plenty in the year between his first start and his next.
“I think the biggest thing is that consistency is key at this level,” Hess said. “I think that there’s been improvements in that aspect, just in terms of understanding how to go about it. I think there’s definitely been a ton of just learning and new understand of what that looks like.
“It’s hard at this level. I know it sounds simple. Of course it’s hard. Winning major league games is hard, so that’s something you really have to learn how to do in a sense.”
It’s clear Hess is still learning. He’ll take the Yankee Stadium mound Wednesday with a 5.03 ERA for his career, including a 5.50 ERA this season. Hess’ 2019 debut came in New York in relief, with two shutout innings on Opening Day. In his first start of the year, he held the Toronto Blue Jays hitless for 6 1/3 innings.
Since that outing in Toronto, Hess has yet to complete six innings, recording an out in the sixth only once in six starts. He has a 7.27 ERA in that span, with 10 home runs allowed in 26 innings. He also was briefly moved to the bullpen, though an injured Alex Cobb enabled Hess to return to the rotation without appearing in relief.
“I think as a whole, you look at us, and we’re all probably gonna say we’re perfectionists,” Hess said. “We want to go out there and not give up any runs, strike out every guys we face, not walk anybody and make perfect pitches, but it’s baseball. It’s a pretty fickle game sometimes.”
Hess said the difference between his highs and lows comes down to execution. In his final nine starts of 2018, he had a 3.24 ERA, ending the season with seven one-run innings against the Houston Astros. He carried that same aggressiveness into the start against Toronto, but has since struggled to recapture that form. At times, it’s been a case of only a handful of pitches, if that many, escaping him, allowing opponents to do damage.
“It’s as simple as execution, but I think for me, it’s a little bit maybe of a mentality thing,” Hess said. “You have to go out there and just be aggressive every time out, so really just kind of understanding that the stuff that got you here is good enough to keep you here and good enough to allow you to have success here, and so we have a really good culture that’s being created right now and is very conducive to that.”
Wednesday, Hess will seek to jump-start his team in what has become a strange two-game series, while also trying to continue a developmental path that has been regularly promising but yet to yield consistent major league results.
“I think the big thing is understanding that your highs aren’t as high as you think and your lows aren’t as low as you think, so understanding that over the course of a year, everything does balance out,” Hess said. “You just have to stay patient sometimes and really just keep working and pushing through it.
“I think the biggest thing is understanding my strengths, understanding what I have to do as a pitcher out there to have success. Now that that understanding’s there, it’s a matter of execution.”