ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — Through three major league starts, the Orioles have seen glimpses of David Hess’ promise and also what he’s trying to learn in order to survive big league lineups. Both were on display in the Orioles’ series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
Sure, there haven’t been many exciting moments during the Orioles’ difficult season, and yes, Hess is just three games into his major league career. And if this struggling club had better options, he’d probably still be fine-tuning his game at Triple-A. But that shouldn’t take away from Hess’ performance Friday night, when he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 Orioles win for the best outing of his brief major league career.
“He’s a respectful, confident guy,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “David is, ‘Here it is. Let’s go. Let’s go compete.’ He presents himself as a baseball player that happens to be a pitcher instead of a pitcher who happens to be on the baseball team, you know? I think he’s going to be that way throughout his career and where it takes him. He’s going to let it rip and see where it takes him. I was proud of him. That was fun to watch.”
With the victory, the Orioles (17-34) have won back-to-back road games for the first time since April 5-6. It was just the Orioles’ fourth win in 29 games this season when they’ve scored three or fewer runs.
Hess allowed four hits, with just two coming after the first inning, while walking three. He struck out three batters, but worked aggressively to get ahead in the count – Hess threw 15 first-pitch strikes to 24 batters faced — and kept the ball in play to let his defense work behind him.
“When you’re able to work the ball in different quadrants of the plate and not make them be able to say, ‘OK, I can box that out and you can’t get it there and you can’t get that pitch over the plate, so I’m going to box it out,’ ” Showalter said, “they haven’t been able to do that on him.”
His fastball played well, inducing six swinging strikes, and he was able to use his slider off of it to also draw six swinging strikes.
“Fastball command was there pretty well,” Hess said. “Ran into a little bit of trouble occasionally with that and so then I utilized my slider pretty well and mixed in some splitters and curveballs, as well, to keep them off-balance.”
Hess (2-1) had several opportunities to falter in the low-scoring game, but the Rays ran into three outs, including once in the first when the rookie picked Brad Miller off second after a leadoff double. Catcher Andrew Susac also threw out Mallex Smith and Joey Wendle attempting to steal second and third, respectively.
Hess ran into trouble in the fifth when Smith drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on a balk and an error — a pickoff attempt at second that went through second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s legs into center field.
But Hess left Smith at third, inducing three groundouts in the inning, including a nice play at third by Danny Valencia, who backhanded a Daniel Robertson grounder, hopped over Smith diving back into third and threw to first from foul ground with time to spare.
Hess has quality starts in two of his first three big league starts, both of them coming against the Rays (23-26). He overcame a three-run first inning to get through six innings in his debut May 12 in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Tampa Bay. His second start didn’t go as well, as he allowed three homers Sunday in Boston – including two to slugger J.D. Martinez — but Hess took it as a learning experience facing the top offense in the American League. Hess carried that into Friday.
“Yeah, he attacks the zone, keeps hitters off-balance, makes pitches when he needs to and uses [the defense],” Schoop said. “Throw strikes, put the ball in play and when he needs to make some pitches, he knew when to get it, too. He’s been good so far.”
Hess didn’t have much margin for error as the Orioles managed just two runs of their own. They scored one run in the first off right-hander Sergio Romo – the Rays setup man who has been used to start in his past three outings – on Valencia’s two-out RBI double.
The Orioles received a crucial insurance run in the sixth on Schoop’s mammoth solo homer to left-center field against left-hander Ryan Yarbrough. Schoop took a 1-0 two-seam fastball an estimated 442 feet, nearly reaching the concourse in left-center for his fifth of the season.
The Orioles bullpen was wobbly Friday, but kept the shutout intact. Mychal Givens stranded two base runners in the seventh. Richard Bleier tossed a perfect inning, and Brad Brach brought the winning run to the plate with one out in the ninth but retired Robertson and Johnny Field to convert his eighth save of the season.
Hess’ night ended being the recipient of a celebratory shaving cream pie from center fielder Adam Jones (three hits) during his postgame TV interview.