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Matheny: Heasley Had ‘One of the Better Starts’ for Royals This Season

The Royals' skipper is proud of Heasley for turning in the best start of his young career.

The Kansas City Royals have won three games in a row entering Saturday's play, and their starting pitching has been a big part of that. This was never more the case than on Friday night, as Jonathan Heasley turned in perhaps the best start he's had as a member of the big-league club.

On a warm evening at Kauffman Stadium, Heasley took the mound coming off back-to-back quality starts (six innings pitched and three earned runs allowed in both previous contests). The 25-year-old righty from Texas had yet to fully put everything together for an entire start, as his command has been spotty ever since being promoted from Triple-A Omaha earlier in the year. Without us even diving into his stat line (yet), manager Mike Matheny's one-sentence recaps summed things up pretty accurately.

May 24, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Jonathan Heasley throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

"That was one of the better starts we've had this season."

"He just keeps coming at them."

In seven innings of work, Heasley allowed just one hit to the Baltimore Orioles. He also limited his walks to not just one or two, but zero. In the process, he recorded seven strikeouts to boot. It was hands-down one of the best starts of any Royals pitcher in 2022, and it came from a player who many forget to even mention when considering the club's talented young arms. Heasley has been nails in his last three starts, and his season ERA now sits at a relatively tidy 3.62. 

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Heasley's "stuff" has always been projected to play fairly at the MLB level. His fastball and changeup both get good movement and are solid pitches, and his curveball-slider combination serves as a backup plan or added touch on nights that call for it. He went to the four-seamer 49% of the time against Baltimore on Friday, which is mostly consistent with his 46% season average. The same fell in line for the changeup, curveball and slider, as he didn't stray too far from what he's done throughout the season. Matheny spoke to Heasley's pitch mix, praising his ability to find what was working and roll with it. 

"The changeup is always going to be a pretty good pitch for him," Matheny said. "That's going to be a very good pitch. Night-by-night, it's either the slider or the curveball. He used both and got some early outs with the slider and then, eventually, the curveball came along. It was fastball command. He elevated when he needed to, he challenged when he needed to."

Heasley varied his pitch locations all night, but he avoided missing high with his changeup and also generally kept his slider down in the strike zone. He did get away with a few questionable curveballs that were right over the heart of the plate but nonetheless, Baltimore couldn't take advantage of any of his misses. Of Heasley's seven strikeouts, three came by way of the fastball, three were on changeups and even that curveball on the low right pocket just outside of the zone induced one. Only one pitcher generated double-digit swings and misses on Friday: Heasley. The next closest was Orioles starter Bruce Zimmermann, who had six. 

Several members of Kansas City's rotation have flashed greatness this season. Ace Zack Greinke and No. 2 starter Brad Keller both got off to fantastic starts, yet they've slowed down over time. After coming back from Omaha, Brady Singer and his newfound changeup thrived early before cooling off as of late. Daniel Lynch has also had a stretch of dominance in 2022. None of them have been able to be consistently good, though.

Heasley's the latest member of the crew to experience massive success, although it remains to be seen just how long he can sustain it. He does have a decent baseline with his primary offerings, however, and if Friday's start instills more confidence in himself to fill up the strike zone, his solid play could be legit. Despite struggling with command and consistency, Heasley is now emerging on the other side as one of the Royals' best pitchers. Time will tell if he can keep it up.