SARASOTA, Florida—David Hess had an awful 2019. How bad was it?
The high point of the season came in Hess’ first start on April 1 in Toronto when he was lifted after throwing 6 1/3 hitless innings.
After that, his season cratered, and by mid-June, he was back at Triple-A Norfolk.
Hess had only sporadic major league action in the second half of the season and ended with a 1-10 record and 7.09 ERA.
There were some dreadful starts — six runs on eight hits in two innings at Tampa Bay on April 17, nine runs in five innings against New York on May 21, and seven runs in four innings on June 1 against San Francisco.
Hess was sent back to Norfolk with the intent of making him a reliever, but the Tides needed starters, and Hess had to make a few starts. In 13 games, Hess was 3-2 with a 4.57 ERA.
“It was really challenging,” Hess said of his 2019. “I like to pride myself in being able to find the good in bad situations regardless of what it looks like, showing up every day and having a good positive mentality and outlook on everything.
“To maintain that was challenging at times because there was a lot of factors going into it. We were working on a lot of things. We were across the board, just trying to learn, so again, it was no different than that. It was a challenge at times, but I think really falling back on that and trying to find the positives in it, and that helped me going forward.”
He’s convinced that this year will be better.
“I think this year is a little different than last year because everybody has an awareness of each other a little bit more. We understand how [manager Brandon Hyde] and the staff want to operate things. We have good relationships with guys on the team, just more of a comfortability with each other and spring training as a whole coming into camp. Everybody knows what they want to accomplish out of it. I think it allows for more of a hyperfocus, getting the most out of our team here.”
Hyde sees signs that 2020 will be a better year for Hess.
“I think that the offseason was huge for him,” he said. “He did have a tough year, and it is one of those adversity moments that a lot of guys have in their careers. Use that as a learning experience, know what he needs to work on.
“They got after it this winter. I know our pitching guys are happy with the progress made, the shape in all of his pitches. They made a couple of tweaks mechanically, in his delivery. So far, the results have been really good.”
Hess, who has an option remaining, is 26 and knows that things must change.
“I think the quality of pitches is the thing that I’ve been focusing on, making each pitch the best location I possibly can,” he said. “So, going into the offseason, the focus was to make sure everything was sound and in tune the way we wanted it. Now, it’s just go out and allow it to come to the surface and compete well and make quality pitches.”
Hess is one of perhaps a dozen candidates for the starting rotation.
“I think across the board in here, everybody knows the opportunity that’s presenting itself,” he said.
Hyde said he’ll consider Hess as a starter but could see him in the bullpen. With so many starting candidates, Hess might not start Grapefruit League games, but he’ll pitch multiple innings.
“We’re going to get a good look at him in the next five, six weeks,” Hyde said.
Hess is eager to forget about last season.
“Everybody is really driven,” Hess said. “We’re all focused on giving the best we possibly can to get there. I’m no different than that. We have a healthy competition here, and we’re all trying to bring the best out of each other for the team.
“Whenever you have a lot of competition like we do in camp, I think that’s something that’s a byproduct of that. When guys are pushing each other to be better, by pushing themselves to be better, in turn the team is elevated. You get pushed forward as a group, so it’s a really cool thing to be a part of.”