Veteran left-handed starter Andrew Heaney made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday, striking out five Minnesota Twins batters in 4 1/3 innings. He surrendered an unearned run on three hits and he didn’t walk anyone on 67 pitches. The Dodgers later weathered a rain delay to secure a 7-2 victory (box score).
The most intriguing, and arguably the most important aspect of Heaney’s start had to do with the changes he made from last season, particularly with regards to his breaking ball. It seemed like a fait accompli that the Dodgers would tinker with Heaney’s game when he signed a one-year pact with them after a miserable 2021 season. Sure enough, they did.
Heaney’s breaking ball showed more velocity and an altered movement profile. Instead of averaging 79.4 mph the way it did last season, he chucked it in at 82.7 mph. His curve also featured less vertical depth and, interestingly enough, slightly less horizontal break. The Dodgers are known for teaching their pitchers to throw sweeping sliders; Heaney’s doesn’t feature the kind of horizontal movement that some of the other Dodgers pitchers have, but his new breaker was still effective.
Indeed, Heaney generated nine swinging strikes and 12 chases on 20 swings (out of 31 total pitches). That’s the fourth most whiffs and the third most chases Heaney has had in a single game on his curveball since 2019.
“I think anything with that kind of lateral break is effective, but it’s a tough pitch, obviously, to control too,” Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior told The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya this spring. “(Heaney’s) is a little bit slower than some of the other guys is where there’s a little bit more velocity, too. The lateral, big sweeping slider is unique to the individual. … So it’s been a work in progress.”
Ardaya also noted that the Dodgers had conducted a biomechanical analysis of Heaney’s delivery and suggested modifications to his delivery. One subtle change they made entailed him no longer shifting where he stood on the rubber. Heaney’s release points, predictably, were more clustered on Tuesday than they had been in the past.
It’s to be seen if Heaney will continue to find such success with his new pitch and his new game plan. That combination worked for him on Tuesday, though, and that’s a step in the right direction.