In the Kansas City Royals' 6-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Friday night, pitcher Jon Heasley made his major league debut in front of the home crowd. This came after the team placed Brady Singer on the injured list earlier in the day.
Heasley, a 6'3" righty and the Royals' No. 14 prospect, was previously throwing for the organization's Double-A affiliate. In 105.1 innings with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Heasley posted some quality numbers. A 3.33 ERA in 22 games (21 starts) with a K/9 sitting at a whopping 10.25 was more than solid and certainly worthy of some sort of promotion.
With the Royals short on arms and needing someone who could eat up some innings down the stretch, Friday was Heasley's time to shine. While he was far from perfect, the numbers make his outing look much worse than it actually was. In four innings, the 225-pounder allowed six hits and four runs — all four coming from two home runs by Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic. Heasley struck out two hitters and didn't walk any. After the game, Royals manager Mike Matheny said he liked what he saw for the most part.
"His stuff looked great," Matheny said. "I thought he threw much better than what the four runs were. Even looking at those pitches, you're talking a 3-1 changeup and then a 3-2 curveball on the black away that ends up going out to center — that cost him the four runs against the same hitter. Those are not terrible pitches. I thought he executed everything. Curveball was coming out well, he was able to throw the changeup in just about any count and had good life on his fastball, moving it to both sides. I thought it was a really good outing. Unfortunately, those two pitches really cost him."
Heasley's aforementioned "stuff" is legitimate. He boasts a fastball that sits around the mid-90s but can touch a bit higher if absolutely necessary. His curveball is a clear plus pitch, possessing great life and the ability to make hitters look foolish. Heasley also carries a changeup and slider in his arsenal. If "stuff" was all it took to have success in baseball, Heasley would be covered. Matheny continued to praise it.
"That stuff will play," Matheny said. "Those are three above-average pitches. When he got the changeup to the right speed... it had good depth and the breaking ball, you could tell he threw it with a lot of confidence. I couldn't be happier with what we saw. He clipped one batter, no walks, pounding the strike zone, was aggressive, trusted his stuff, all of those things we talk about."
The Royals have dealt with young pitchers all season long, specifically from their 2018 draft class. With Heasley making his debut on Friday, the team became the first in MLB history to start five pitchers from the same draft class in the same season. The quartet of Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic had already spent time with the major league club this year, and Heasley — a 13th-round pick — completes the feat as the fifth. Matheny spoke very highly of Heasley's baseball acumen and more in his closing remarks last night.
"Understand that this guy is going to come out, he's going to compete," Matheny said." "He's not going to be overwhelmed... those are huge compliments, which just talks of his character, talks of his makeup, talks of his stuff. All of the above are impressive, that's why he was given this shot. Otherwise, if we thought it would be something that would be too much, he wouldn't be here."
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Heasley. He mentioned postgame that getting promoted to Triple-A to close the minor league season was a blip on his radar, but he didn't expect to make the jump straight to the MLB club whatsoever. He's grateful for the opportunity and if Matheny's reaction to his pitcher's first start is any indication, the Royals are also grateful to have him aboard for a start or two to close the 2021 campaign.