David Hess, DJ Stewart Provide Glimpse Of Hope For Orioles
DURHAM, N.C.—With everything going so horribly wrong at the major league level, all the Orioles can do at this point is look to the minors for a glimmer of hope for the future.
In that regard, two of the Orioles top prospects provided a much-needed injection of optimism on Tuesday.
David Hess took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and DJ Stewart hit a grand slam to lead Triple-A Norfolk to a 13-0 win over Durham (Rays) in an afternoon matinee.
Hess, the Orioles No. 15 prospect, finished with seven scoreless innings of one-hit ball with one walk and 10 strikeouts. Stewart, No. 16 prospect, went 2-for-3 with a single, two walks, two stolen bases and his ninth-inning grand slam.
“Obviously we look at (the majors) and we see it just because those are guys we have relationships with,” Stewart said. “You try not to focus on it because you’re not there right now, but we are focused on it because we’re one phone call away and our manager is making moves every single day. You hate to see guys you have relationships with struggle, you want to see them have success, you just look forward to the opportunity to where you can actually help them.”
Hess, a fifth-round pick from Tennessee Tech in 2014, in particular is showing he may be ready to help an Orioles rotation with a 5.32 ERA. The 24-year-old righthander improved to 2-0, 2.12 and has allowed one earned run or less in five of his six starts.
“Everybody is aware of what’s going on,” Hess said, “but I think at the end of the day you go out and you perform and you try and enjoy where you’re at and what you’re doing, and then kind of let that stuff take care of itself.”
Hess methodically shut down a lineup full of top Rays prospects. After walking Willy Adames in the first inning, he retired 17 straight to carry a no-hitter through six.
“It was just locating and trusting my stuff as much as I can and then being able to throw offspeed pitches for strikes and use them out of the zone as well,” Hess said. “It just plays off your fastball and makes it better. Altogether, you can’t ask for much more than that.”
Adames broke the no-hitter up with a bloop single off the end of his bat to lead off the seventh. Hess quickly recovered, getting Jake Bauers to fly out and striking out Christian Arroyo and Jason Coats to finish his day.
“All his pitches were working and his fastball had some kind of life on it today,” Norfolk catcher Austin Wynns said. “He hit the top of the zone, painted the corners, kept the other team off balance. He was on today….You watch the hitters and their reactions in the box and you could see it, their hitters were so uncomfortable today. We saw it, we went with it, and it worked out for us.”
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Stewart led the way offensively, showing the blend of lefthanded power, speed and patience that made him a 20-20 player in Double-A last year. Traditionally a slow starter—Stewart OPS’d .719 and .751 in the first halves of 2016 and 2017 compared to .837 and .980 in the second halves—the bulky 24-year-old has made it a point to try and get going sooner in 2018.
The results have been mixed so far—Stewart is batting .256 with a .725 OPS—but his performance Tuesday showed what he is capable of.
“In previous years with me still working on adjusting how I was standing in the box, that was kind of in the back of my mind at the start of each season,” Stewart said. “But after last year and the year that I had, I’m in a comfortable spot where I actually know where I want to be and what I want to do. So this year I’m not going into that actually thinking about that, I can kind of just go get in the box and worry about hitting.”
At the rate things are going—the Orioles are on pace to go 38-124—it’s only a matter of time before there is a selloff in Baltimore and the prospects are called up en masse.
Whenever that day comes, Hess and Stewart will be ready.
“It definitely is very cool and encouraging being one phone call away at this level and knowing at any second it can happen to you,” Stewart said. “But you can’t focus on that. You have to focus on having a good season here, playing good, winning baseball, and hopefully everything will take care of itself.”