Orioles rookie right-hander David Hess’ performance against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday would have been enough to win on most nights. But on this night, he opposed three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, so his margin for error was thin.
Hess made just one mistake in recording a quality start for the third time in four major league starts, a full-count changeup that Bryce Harper hit the opposite way for his major-league-leading 17th home run of the season, and Scherzer would hold up his end, making sure it was all the Nationals would need to send the Orioles to a 2-0 loss.
The Orioles (17-39), losers of five straight games, were swept in their three-game home series against their regional rivals at Camden Yards. The Orioles were shut out twice in the series and scored just two runs in three games, wasting quality starts in the final two games from Dylan Bundy and then Hess.
“We've just got to figure out a way for our offense to get some type of consistency because it's been a challenge for us,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “But the pitching, I still think when it's all said and done our rotation is going to give us a chance to win more times than not and we have a lot of good young pitchers coming, too.”
On Wednesday, Scherzer possessed the stuff to put on a pitching clinic, and the struggling Orioles offense — which has scored three runs or fewer in 12 of its past 14 games — obliged him.
The Orioles managed just two hits off Scherzer as he struck out 12 batters. Of the 111 pitches Scherzer threw Wednesday, 74.8 percent were strikes.
“They don’t just hand out Cy Youngs, and he’s got a few of them,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who had one of the Orioles’ two hits against Scherzer, but also struck out to end the seventh, stranding two base runners. “He’s really good. … It’s tough. Anytime you face a guy like that, you know you’ve got your work cut out for you. I thought David Hess threw the ball outstanding tonight for a guy that’s only been here a few days and to have only made a couple of starts, to go out there and go toe-to-toe with one of the best in the business, says a lot about him and a little bit about the future of this club.”
Scherzer — who entered the night with the highest swinging-strike rate in the majors at 16.7 percent — kept Orioles hitters off balance by mixing his pitches with precision, recording a season-high 29 swinging strikes, according to Baseball Savant. He recorded 10 swinging strikes on his fastball and nine on his slider despite throwing it just 25 times.
Hess held the Nationals to four hits and ended his night retiring the final 10 hitters he faced. He lowered his season ERA to 3.47 and has allowed just one run over his past two starts spanning 12 2/3 innings. Take away a 4 2/3-inning, five-run outing in which he allowed three home run in Boston on May 20, and Hess has allowed just four earned runs over 18 2/3 innings.
In the third inning, he was just one strike away from retiring Harper and getting out of the inning. But Harper patiently worked the count full before going the other way with a changeup on the outer part of the plate — nearly the exact same pitch Hess got a swinging strike on in the first pitch of the at bat — and sent it inside the left-field foul pole.
“Credit to him,” Hess said. “He’s a great hitter and that’s what he does and I think he showed why he’s a valuable player, by doing that. I think that’s a pitch you want to get down a little more, and he made a good adjustment. Tip your cap to him. But in the future, you’ve got to make a better pitch next time.”
Hess allowed a two-out double to Rendon after that, but wouldn’t allow another hit through his final 3 1/3 innings, recording flyouts on nine of his next 10 outs.
“He’s taken advantage of every opportunity he gets,” Showalter said of Hess. “He wasn’t carrying quite the fastball that he’s had in the past outings and that was good to see him survive and give us a real good chance to win a game if we can push some runs across. But I’m sure he knew coming in he was going to have a tough task, but with the pitcher for them and our challenge scoring runs right now, but he did everything he could do. That was impressive
Reliever Miguel Castro allowed a run in the seventh when a one-out walk to Michael Taylor came around to score after back-to-back singles by Pedro Severino and Juan Soto.
Scherzer retired 14 straight after Davis’ two-out opposite-field single in the second inning before Manny Machado shot a double the other way down the right-field line with one out in the seventh. Mark Trumbo drew a two-out walk to bring the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Davis, but Scherzer struck Davis out on four pitches, getting him to swing through a changeup on the final pitch of the at-bat, prompting a chorus of boos from the Camden Yards crowd.
For the second straight night, the Orioles ran out of an inning with Machado coming up.They put their first two hitters on in the ninth against Sean Doolittle after singles by Craig Gentry and Adam Jones, but Gentry was caught between second and third, erasing the lead runner for the first out and the Orioles went out quietly on two flyouts to end the game.