Andrew Heaney’s first Dodgers start is strong in team’s rain-delayed win over Twins
Upon agreeing to terms with the team on a one-year, $8.5-million deal in mid-November, Heaney flew to Los Angeles to get a physical but also to meet with the team’s pitching staff. He was well aware of the Dodgers’ track record of developing pitchers, of unlocking potential in even veteran arms.
And eight years into his own underwhelming major league career, the left-hander was eager to hear the Dodgers’ ideas for him for the upcoming season.
He believed that, with the Dodgers’ help, he could reach a new level on the mound.
Five months later, Heaney showed the first signs of progress Tuesday night, giving up one unearned run over 4 1/3 innings in his Dodgers debut.
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By the time showers poured from the sky and lightning flashed around Target Field, Heaney’s performance — which included five strikeouts, no walks and a bunch of swings and misses on his new sweeping slider — already had become the Dodgers’ most important development of the night.
“A little cold, a little rain, but it was good,” Heaney said with a smile. “Good feeling to get off to a good start.”
Behind the scenes, Heaney has been making a strong impression on the Dodgers for weeks.
While he couldn’t communicate with the team during baseball’s lockout, he worked on the changes the Dodgers recommended in November, incorporating the adjustments into his throwing program home in Oklahoma.
When he showed up to spring training, he had an appetite for answers. About his new mechanics, moving to the middle of the rubber to be less rotational and more direct to the plate. About his new breaking pitch, a sweeping slider that replaced the looping curveball he used during his time with the Angels. About his new plan of attack on the mound, hoping to be more effective after suffering a career-worst 5.83 earned-run average last season.
“The difference I think here, to me, is I feel like there’s somebody that has an answer for all your questions,” Heaney said this spring. “Everybody here has a common bond, in just the way they buy in and believe in their process.”
Before Tuesday’s game, manager Dave Roberts said the 30-year-old has been “as open as any player we’ve gotten” to that process, which has been headed by pitching coach Mark Prior and assistant pitching coach Connor McGuiness.
Prior was a constant presence during Heaney’s spring training bullpen sessions, occasionally even standing in the batter’s box to give him feedback on his altered arsenal.
McGuiness was one of Heaney’s biggest resources too. One day last month, he sat at Heaney’s locker with a ball on the middle of a long stick, discussing the rotational characteristics of his new pitches.
“I think it’s a similar process that we go through with a lot of new guys whether we acquire [them] midseason or in the offseason,” Prior said. “Just trying to get a comfortability level with what they like or don’t like and try some different things.”
Roberts said the team will give Heaney plenty of time to get comfortable with the adjustments, setting high hopes for the left-hander’s development this season.
“I think he realizes the ceiling for himself, and I don’t believe he’s even close to it,” Roberts said. “For him to put his ego aside and be open to the information and the coaches and what they have to say, and try to apply it without making excuses, I’m going to support him for quite some time because of that. I believe in him. I really do.”
Tuesday’s performance bolstered that faith.
Heaney flashed his new slider from the first at-bat, using it to fan Twins star Byron Buxton. He gave up a double to the next batter, Carlos Correa, but then retired eight in a row.
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In the fourth, Heaney stranded another double by Correa. He might have gotten through the fifth unscathed too had shortstop Trea Turner not lost his footing on a tailor-made double-play grounder and airmailed a flip throw to second base that allowed a run to score.
That ended Heaney’s night after 67 pitches, but reliever Brusdar Graterol made sure no more damage was done.
In all, Heaney threw either a fastball or breaking pitch all but three times, racking up 15 swings and misses from Twins hitters — and making a strong opening statement for his season.
“The more trust he has in his grip, in his throw, that the results will be there, he’s only going to get better,” Roberts said. “I don’t think any of us knew how effective he was gonna be tonight. … I’m just really excited for Andrew.”
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