Orioles right-hander David Hess was recalled to the majors Saturday after a three-week crash course in becoming a reliever, with his return to the roster coming once he got settled into the bullpen and it became clear his stuff was ticking up in shorter outings.
Hess' transition was necessitated more by his struggles as a starter than anything else, but it also added a usable arm to join the bullpen mix at an unstable position for the Orioles. And he's not alone in that.
Earlier this season, prospects Dillon Tate and Hunter Harvey made the move from the rotation to the bullpen at Double-A Bowie with similar goals in mind. Both have thrived.
And just as the Orioles can only now wait to see if Hess' transition goes as well in the big leagues as it did at Triple-A Norfolk, it might soon be time to see what they have in Tate and Harvey, who are already on the 40-man roster.
"It's still development, but it's possible that one or both of those guys could be here if they continue to pitch well," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. "I know Hunter's throwing the ball great, and it looks like Dillon's stuff has gotten better also coming out of the pen. They're still developing, but there's a chance that one or both will be up here in the second half at some point."
Major league bullpens are full of pitchers who were once starters, so the transition that each has made is nothing too unique. Hess, 25, allowed five runs on six hits in his first outing down at Norfolk, but allowed just four hits and struck out 14 in 11 innings since to earn his return. Harvey's move to relief came as a way to both manage his innings and experiment with a new role, and the 2013 first-round draft pick threw three scoreless outings spanning nine innings at Bowie before being promoted to Norfolk.
Tate, 25, asked the organization to go to the bullpen earlier this season, after just two starts. He has a 2.21 ERA in 11 outings spanning 20 1/3 innings as a reliever, with a 0.934 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in the role. He served as a reliever for two years at UC-Santa Barbara before starting as a junior and becoming the fourth overall pick. He said he finds the role more comfortable for his approach.
"I just don't have a lot of time to think, and I think that's what I am most attracted to about the bullpen," Tate said. "It's always a go-go-go type of mentality. I think that's more suited for my playing style.
"The stuff is different out of the bullpen,” added Tate, whose fastball was in the 90-91 mph range but has been up to 95-96 mph out of the bullpen. “I can crank on it a little bit more. And for [those] that may not understand what I mean by crank on it, it's just there's more intensity behind each pitch because I'm not out there as long as I am starting-wise. So, there has been a difference with that feel."
Hess, who briefly pitched in relief last year as well, felt the same thing.
"I think it just maybe plays good with a small sample size," Hess said. "I think it really allows each pitch to kind of be the best that it possibly can be. Maybe a little bit of it is thinking that maybe 20, 25, 30 pitches as opposed to 90 or 100 pitches really allows you to make the most of each pitch. As a starter, you have that goal as well, but out of the pen it puts a little bit of extra focus on every single pitch."
Wojciechowski to start Sunday
Right-hander Asher Wojciechowski, who was acquired Monday from the Cleveland Indians and pitched Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, will start Sunday for the final game of the first half instead of right-hander Gabriel Ynoa.
Hyde said Ynoa would be available in the bullpen this week and is still in the rotation, noting a pending doubleheader next weekend.
"It's regular rest, and we kind of want to see him again," Hyde said. "We've got a lot of stuff after the break with the doubleheader and some other things, so just taking another look at him."