TORONTO — That Orioles right-hander David Hess had no-hit stuff Monday night against the Toronto Blue Jays was obscured by the fact that he didn't get to chase it. That doesn't take away from one of the more encouraging aspects of this young Orioles season so far.
Hess, 25, dominated the Blue Jays through his 6 1/3 innings of no-hit ball, using his lone walk allowed in the fourth inning to dial into another gear with his fastball and strike out a career-high eight batters before he gave way to a depleted Orioles bullpen, which shrunk his 6-0 lead to 6-5 but helped the Orioles improve to 3-1.
How Hess went about it could provide a glimpse into what might end up being different for the lone young Orioles starter to make the team in that role.
First, the fastball velocity
Last year, working as a starter for most of his 21 major league appearances, Hess broke the 95-mph threshold with his fastball six times, according to MLB Statcast Data from BaseballSavant.com. Hess did that six times on Monday alone, and noted that he took himself to another level once the only runner he allowed on base reached in the fourth inning.
After his leadoff walk to Billy McKinney in the fourth, Hess found another level in terms of fastball velocity and struck out the next three batters and two of three in the fifth inning. While velocity isn't the end-all, be-all, it does allow a pitcher with multiple secondary offerings like Hess to more effectively use those, because hitters are more geared up for the heat.
… but also where the fastball was
Hess was credited with 51 fastballs on MLB's tracking systems, with all but three four-seam fastballs. Of those 48 four-seamers, nine were below the middle of the zone, and Hess tried to use it at the top of the strike zone often.
More and more, pitchers are able to use high fastballs as a weapon to combat some of the modern-day swings geared toward launch angle and lifting the ball in the air. Hess lost far too many fastballs below the zone — especially low and glove-side, a sign of mechanical issues — during the 2018 season. But that wasn't the case at all Monday, and Hess and Jesús Sucre found an easy way to exploit some of the weaknesses in the Blue Jays batting order.
The pitch mix
While Toronto's relatively balanced lineup might have contributed, Hess wasn't nearly as heavy with his fastball and slider usage as he was in 2018. He threw the pitch 24.7 percent of the time in September, according to data from BrooksBaseball.net, and was right around there Monday. But he threw his changeup 11 times (13.4 percent) on Monday, which was more than all but five of his 2018 appearances.
He credited Sucre with making that work Monday.
"I think I used my fastball up well, got ahead a little bit, and when I got behind in the count I was able to throw off-speed pitches and try to keep them off-balance," Hess said. "Really, Sucre just did an amazing job of mixing it up and keeping everybody off-balance. Just seeing some of the replays and highlights, some of the swings that were out there—I'm the one throwing it, but he's the game-plan back there. He's making it happen, so he did an awesome job tonight."
And the first-pitch strikes
For Hyde, Hess' success came from first-pitch strikes. He had 12 first-pitch strikes out of 20 chances, and that allowed Hess to dictate instead of the other way around.
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"It was how he pitched ahead in the count," Hyde said. "He was ahead of almost every hitter. He got early swings. I thought all of his pitches were working. He was hitting 95 [mph] a lot with a really good breaking ball and the split-change. Just not a lot of hard contact, because he was working ahead in the count with so many defensive swings. Just incredible."