After Monday night’s game, our own Jason La Canfora submitted the following…
On a night when he was, for those two hours in Toronto, the best pitcher on the planet – overpowering and bewildering the Blue Jays for inning after inning – it should not have ended that way. Hess, 25, should not have had to glance in shock, if not outright despair, from the mound at his oncoming manager, and then cover his mouth with his glove, with the whole baseball world watching on those live whiparound highlight shows. He should not have had to seemingly ask his skipper if this was a cruel April Fool’s joke, and then instantly compose himself and feign a smile and trudge to the dugout like a good soldier. Just to make way for a Double-A arm who is only on the roster for another 10 days until his Rule V status disappears and he cane be sent to Bowie – a place Hess knows well.
Let’s be very clear about Game 4 of this already bizarrely-interesting Baltimore Orioles 2019 season, and what it means. No one Trusts The Process more than I do. It was a masterstroke for John and Louis Angelos to assemble this brain trust (and my peers here at B-More Opinionated would agree). No one could be happier about the transition from the old-and-backward infighting of the decline of the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette regime to this fresh, forward-thinking, inclusive, more open era of Mike Elias and Brandon Hyde. I strongly believe it will work. Monday night changes none of that. But this was a misstep. An overthink. Doesn’t sit right with me
Yes indeed, David Hess deserved better.
Hyde has already won me over with his transparency and a willingness to give guys a blank slate, and with the organic esprit de corps that he’s fostered. He seems a great fit for this youthful bunch of (hopefully) overachievers. He is focused on the big picture and will prize player development above all else. This looks like a scrappy team, with a scrappy manager. After 2018, sign me up for scrappy all day and night.
And I wish Hyde didn’t reach an inflection point like this, oh, roughly 35-innings into his big-league managing career. But he did. And I wish he had done things differently, and I wonder if at some point years later he thinks back on this night in Toronto and feels the same way.
It will all pass (well, for everyone except the kid who will spend the rest of his career wondering if he would’ve thrown the 300th no-hitter in the entire history of MLB). I assume the early cache Hyde has built up and the laundry-cart celebrations and all and all won’t cause any puzzled looks in the clubhouse to linger.
But Hess was bailing out his rookie skipper for the second time in less than a week, did it as well any human being possibly could have, and then had to make way for Pedro Araujo with a six-run lead (not quite Buck bringing in Ubaldo instead of Britton in Toronto, but ugly just the same). Hess had thrown just 82 pitches, hovering between 94-and-96 mph with his fastball the entire time, easily repeating his delivery, showing no signs of fatigue or loss of focus, walking only one, without having to break a sweat or pitch in any high-leverage situations. He got pulled off the mound to a chorus of boos from a sparse Rogers Centre crowd having thrown over 13 pitches in an inning just once (way back in the fourth), and having required more than five pitches in an at bat just five times all night.
He appeared to still be very much at his best; better than he had ever been before. Then it was all over.
Recall how we got here in the first place. Hess was scheduled to start the series opener in Toronto all along, but, with the Orioles down, 6-1, in the sixth inning on Opening Day in New York last Thursday, he was summoned in a mop-up role when the O’s did in fact look like a AAA team against the Bronx Bombers. Hess threw 42 pitches in eating up two (meaningless?) scoreless innings despite the Orioles about to throw an opener in Game 2. Hmm.
Monday night, with the bullpen already in disrepair (and no sleight to Hyde there; he was dealt this hand and navigating through this season would be a burden for any staff) Hess was electric from the first batter he faced. He was handcuffing right-handed hitters with an in-running fastball and blowing by the Jays with an elevated heater and having command of his entire arsenal.
From the broadcast booth Mike Bordick noted the nasty spin Hess was creating with his release point, and the Blue Jays were guessing from the start; catcher Jesus Sucre seemed one step ahead with each finger he threw down. Hess never had to throw a single pitch with less than a four-run lead, sailing through three innings facing just nine hitters on 28 pitches (only 10 balls), before he had to extend in the fourth.
It required 27 pitches to navigate that inning, with a lead-off walk reaching second on a wild pitch. Billy McKinney, the lone baserunner, never advanced from. The O’s were up, 5-0, with the middle of the order due up. You wanna yank the starter there, with three relievers available, great.
Hess required a mere 11 pitches to dominate the Jays in the fifth inning on a weak pop and two strikeouts. He’s now in line for the win. You wanna pull him then? Okay, I get it. Don’t want to run up the pitch count. It’s early in the year. Big picture. Still only half-way, roughly, to a no-no, anyway, and even if the pen blows the game, you’re supposed to be the worst team in baseball anyway.
Sixth inning: 13 pitches, never goes full count on anyone, turns the order over on a pop fly, swinging strikeout and a liner to Chris Davis. It’s the first hard hit ball of the night, by any measure. You take the kid out here, I’m certainly playing it all out in my mind, and fast-forwarding in my head to the post-game press conference, but he’s at 75 pitches, and the lead has now been extended to 6-0.
Would I have loved it? Nah. I can’t lie. But I wouldn’t be writing a column about it, either. Go talk to Hess in the dugout – or back to the clubhouse if you prefer– and handle the business there. But if it’s all about pitch count, end it there. Why let him get any closer to history?
Instead, Hess comes out to start the seventh, battles Brandon Drury for eight pitches, gets a line-out to short, and here comes Hyde. “I let him go as far as I could possibly let him go,” Hyde told Gary Thorne in the post-game show on MASN. “… It was just the right thing, long term, obviously, for him, for his health, for the ball club.”
I believe Hyde is being sincere with this, and you could tell how his stomach was turning over this decision, but then, again, why start the seventh? And at this point, why not let Hess at least finish the inning and end it on something of his own terms? If he surrenders a hit, the Rule V arm is already loose (and ready to implode). If Hess gets through that inning, talk to him in the dugout before the eighth.
If he was already at 100 pitches that’s one thing … but now at 82 I’m supposed to believe his arm will fall off with one more pitch? With off days and inevitable rain outs to come, and that Norfolk shuttle primed to exploit if Hess needs additional rest, now at pitch 83 there is suddenly imminent irreparable damage ahead? I’m old enough to remember Mychal Givens – probably the biggest trade chip left in the organization – getting stretched perhaps beyond the limit just this weekend in Yankee Stadium – pitching two days in a row and throwing 49 pitches in miserable conditions Sunday. It’s April for him too, but one day later now Hess’s arm is going to fall off if he tries to complete the seventh inning?
The last 10 batters Hess faced since issuing his only walk (in reverse order): Liner to infield, liner to infield, strikeout (swinging), popup, strikeout (looking), strikeout (looking), popup, strikeout (looking), strikeout (swinging), strikeout (swinging). The next three batters due up – Justin Smoak, Randal Grichuk and Rowdy Tellez, were a combined 0-for-6 with three strikeouts, two weak pops and a flyball.
If there had been any sign of distress, go get him. Any laboring or falling off in his delivery or walking guys, okay. But the last seven outs required a total of 32 pitches. At the very least, that seventh inning belonged to Hess. Imagine what went through his mind, dreaming about something like this from the moment he learned to throw a baseball, being at the very pinnacle despite the unenviable position he was put in, and now with MLB Network breaking into show every pitch it’s taken away to preserve him for later in a rebuilding season?
He will never utter a bad word about the situation, even under his breath. But just go back to the video clip when he was told his night is over. It says it all.
Having watched Hess pitch with regularity since first seeing him at Frederick in 2015, he is an easy guy to root for. He is a tremendous young man who has earned his way up each wrung of the minors with no fanfare. Imagine what him tossing a no hitter would have meant to every other non-top-30 prospect in the system? What could that have done for his confidence?
Part of the joy – and, more to the point in rebuilding campaigns, reward – of following every pitch of a 162-game season is the unexpected twists and turns. This will be a long and bleak season. We get it. That’s what we’re signing up for. So when a unicorn like this pops up, you tend to want to see it live as long as it can and, well, simply be entertained.
With my daughter next to me on the couch and my son in the rocking chair nearby and the excitement building in a season of zero expectations and the kids getting into it, I didn’t want to see it end that way. Honestly, if I was home alone I’d probably feel much the same way. Perhaps, I’m being selfish. Or maybe we deserved better, too?