Originally published by DodgerBlue.com
Although Andrew Heaney had an ERA near six last season, he was one of the most coveted free agents available with more than 10 teams reportedly showing interest because of his underlying skills that were yet to be tapped into.
Heaney ultimately chose to sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have had a lot of success at helping players turn their careers around, and through two starts his results have been highly encouraging.
The 30-year-old has now throw 10.1 innings this year while striking out 16 batters and only allowing one earned run. What has allowed him to be so successful after a disastrous 2021 season is a new breaking ball that he calls a slider but pitch tracking classifies as a curveball.
“It kind of helps me when I get put into a bad count,” Heaney said about his sweeping slider. “You know, 1-0, 2-0, 3-1, whatever it is, I feel comfortable and confident throwing that, and that’s something that were in the past I’ve kind of felt like I’ve got to throw my best heater there and it kind of backs me into a corner a bit.
“So yeah, definitely opens it up, and I think throwing on the inner half with the heater and then having guys have to respect that has kind of opened up a few other things for me too.”
Heaney’s fastball and slider combination is one that’s working well, and having two pitches so in sync is something he has never experienced in the past, even when one of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
The result so far is both pitches producing a whiff rate above 45%, where his fastball previously been around a 26% rate and his curveball around 35%.
“Yeah, I mean, like my velo hasn’t been amazing. But I think it’s something where I think I can keep guys off the heater with that,” Heaney said. “And then vice versa, like keep guys off the slider with the heater.
“So I haven’t really even mixed in the changeup all that much. So I think that’s kind of the next step for me is to kind of get a little bit more into a three-pitch mix. But yeah, I think the two play off each other really well.”
As Heaney mentioned, he has yet to throw his changeup much at all. During his outing against the Cincinnati Reds, Heaney pitched almost exclusively with his fastball and slider, which Dodgers manager Dave Roberts viewed as a compliment to how good the new pitch is.
“I think it speaks a lot to the breaking ball,” Roberts said. “Because the breaking ball that he throws when it’s right, it looks like a fastball. So that’s it, and he can strike it, but also you got swings and misses with the fastball too.”
Justin Turner has hit well off Heaney in his career. The Dodgers’ third baseman faced him 12 times while batting .300/.417/.900 against his current teammate, with two of his hits leaving the yard. But now that Heaney is equipped with the slider, Turner is seeing a different pitcher on the mound.
“He’s got a new little slider. Pretty fun little toy that seems to be really, really effective,” Justin Turner said.
“I think it’s not popping up out of his hand as much. It’s coming out more on the fastball plane so when he’s got that going down below, and then the fastball that’s got some late ride, it makes him pretty tough.”
Heaney’s slider still a work in progress
While Heaney is finding success with his slider, he wasn’t always getting those same results. During Spring Training, he was still working on finding it and that led to an ERA near 17 the exhibition games.
But during a bullpen session at Coors Field, Roberts said it all seemed to click for Heaney. Now, it’s just about working to get better each start and continuing to build off the last.
“I think confidence is growing with that breaking ball,” Heaney said. “Today felt better than the last time out. And I think it’s kind of one of those things that you don’t want to try and get too far ahead of yourself.
“Like you got to stay within yourself and know what you can do. But I’m getting more and more comfortable with it. That’s a good feeling.”
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