Call it an important baseball lesson for young David Hess – or anyone else who takes a major league mound for the first or 100th time.
The guys you are facing can hammer the baseball a long way. But keep pounding the strike zone and good things can still happen.
The 24-year-old Hess made his big league debut Saturday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays and, after retiring the first batter he faced, allowed two singles and then a three-run homer to Matt Duffy.
The Orioles were down 3-0 in the first – we’ve seen that before – and the former fifth-round draft pick in 2014 was on the ropes.
He allowed another single to the next batter, then got out of the jam with a ground out and his first big league strikeout (of Mallex Smith).
“After that home run I felt like everything kind of slowed down a bit, so I think without realizing it, there might have been some (nerves),” Hess said. “But after that I kind of settled in and felt like I was able to make the pitches I wanted to make.”
There was a point in the first that Hess could have unraveled. He could have started pitching timidly – his fastball sat at 92-93 mph much of the afternoon – but he kept pounding the zone with pitches that were moving aplenty.
He did the very un-Oriole-starter like thing of continuing to attack instead of nibbling. And it worked – long enough for the Orioles to knock Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer around for a 6-3 victory and the club’s fourth consecutive win.
“You have to have that conscious mindset of pound the zone and attack those guys because if you keep them on their heels a little bit more, it gives you a better chance to be more effective, gives your defense a chance to work,” Hess said. “And as you know, we have a real good defense.”
There was a concern that because Hess threw 84 pitches in seven shutout innings Tuesday for Norfolk, that pitching on short rest on such an adrenaline-filled day would be a problem. It wasn’t.
From the second until the sixth inning in the early game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Hess allowed two hits – and no other baserunners. He only struck out three, but he walked none. He threw an incredibly efficient 78 pitches, and 56 were strikes. That’s 72 percent of the pitches Hess threw that were on target. Pretty darn phenomenal.
Frankly, his outing was an oversimplification of what you need to do as a big league pitcher. Pounding the strike zone and letting the defense do the work is a lot harder than it seems. There has to be plenty of confidence in one’s ability to make it happen.
“A lot easier said than done,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Sometimes, you get a little bit too much in there, but he made a lot of quality pitches with his fastball. He got the ball down a little bit after that first inning, got some early outs in early counts. We were going to take him between 70 and 80 (pitches). We were watching pretty closely there in the sixth.”
The point is here, Hess pitched with confidence. With aplomb.
It would have been an impressive, resilient effort from a veteran. It was a hat-tipper and hand-clapper for a guy in his first appearance at this level.
There was a whole lot of clapping and cheering going on from the dozens of friends and family that showed up to root on the kid who grew up in Tullahoma, Tennessee — population 19,000 — and now was a major leaguer.
“It’s pretty crazy. I know you guys are probably aware that I had a lot of family here. Getting everything organized and situated with that was a lot of fun,” said Hess, who doled out hug after hug in the stadium tunnel following his performance. “Everyone was cooperative, the staff here, and everybody’s been great. It’s been a really exciting process and experience, something I’ll never forget.”
Now, let’s not get too carried away. It was one outing for Hess. Plenty of guys have ambushed teams in their debuts only to have reality strike later on.
And the Rays aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. They’ve scored 10 runs in their current five-game losing streak.
Yet, this is what faced Hess, whose best tool might be his off-the-charts makeup – some think he might be too nice of a guy to be a hardscrabble big leaguer – and this is what he did with it:
Six innings, six hits, three earned runs, no walks, three strikeouts.
A quality start. A big-league victory. And, most important, an impressive show of moxie – and strike-throwing – when he could have fallen apart.
Call it a hunch, but I think we’ll see the 6-foot, 220-pound righty from Tennessee Tech on the Camden Yards mound again. Soon.