One of the better signings the Nationals have made the last few seasons is utility man Chris Heisey. The 32-year-old from Mount Joy, Penn., came over to the Nationals after playing for the Dodgers during the 2015 season.
He played only 33 games for Los Angeles following five seasons with the Reds, three of which he hovered around 120 games played.
Last season, he got into 83 games for the Nationals and had a penchant for producing runs in a limited role. Heisey hit nine homers with three doubles and even a triple in 139 at-bats with 17 RBIs.
As a pinch-hitter or relief outfielder in 2016, Heisey’s percentage of fly balls that were home runs tied a career high at 17.6 percent. His home runs per at-bats last season also was impressive at 15.4 percent, a career high. The percentage of plate appearances that resulted in a home run was 5.8 percent, also the best of his career, matching 2011 when he enjoyed 308 plate appearances.
And of course fast forward to Saturday in a 4-2 loss to the Phillies, it was Heisey, making his first start of the season, who cranked the game-tying home run off Jeremy Hellickson in the seventh inning.
Heisey has had only six at-bats in the first 11 games of the season, but hit a home run as his first hit.
What is his key to contributing so quickly at a high level without the repetition of game competition?
“Staying ready. We are very fortunate to have two arms in the cage at all times, a righty and a lefty,” Heisey explained. “So I get a lot of action, even sometimes game action, down there throwing different pitches from close distance just to kind of keep your timing. That’s one way that we can do it. Other than that, just scouting kind of helps a lot when you know what a guy is featuring and what you need to be ready for. That’s half the battle. Sitting on the right pitch and getting it. That goes to our hitting coach and some of his helpers as well.”
Manager Dusty Baker has talked all week about getting Heisey a start. He was glad he finally got him in the lineup.
“He works hard,” Baker said. “He works hard at it, and that’s why we played Heisey so that he’d be confident and have some timing when we do really need him. He tied the game up today. He’s been swinging well, he knows how to keep himself in shape and he works hard. And the guys, the non-regulars, have to work hard. They have to work hard to stay sharp, but we have to play them from time to time.”
Heisey broke down the matchup with Hellickson, who ended up allowing only four hits in seven innings.
“Yeah, he left a changeup pretty much right down the middle,” Heisey said. “He had thrown me a changeup the pitch before and I saw it pretty well and I kind of told myself to not necessarily sit on the changeup but make sure I was staying back to let it get to me because I have a tendency be a little quick in there. He threw it and he made a mistake with it and left it over the middle of the plate.”
Heisey said Hellickson was pretty much featuring just two pitches on Saturday.
“He changes speeds very well. Really just fastball, changeup,” Heisey said. “He threw maybe one or two breaking balls. He threw me one and maybe a couple to few other guys. Just changes speeds, locates, stays away from the middle part of the plate. He is effective with his command and keeps us off balance with the change of speeds.”
* Right-hander Tanner Roark again did his job with a workmanlike seven innings. He also allowed only two runs on four hits with no walks and struck out three.
“I feel like I’m building off each outing, of course,” Roark said. “Doing what I try to do, going out there, make them feel uncomfortable at the plate. Feel like I located the two-seamer really well inside, the four-seamer down and away. It was working today.”
Roark said he was fine from the comebacker that glanced off his arm: “It’s fine, I’ll live. It got mostly bone, I guess you could say.”
Roark also had two of the four base hits off Hellickson - a single and then a double.
“We had the slash on,” Roark said. “That worked out well, just trying to stay short to it. Hit it in the hole, luckily. The other swing, the ball was up a little bit, put a good swing on it.”
Roark is batting .500 (2-for-4) to begin the season.
* Check out our first “Nats Insider” in the red box in left field near section 106 at Nats Park today. We will be there between noon and 1 p.m. before “Nats On Deck” on 106.7 The Fan. Our guests include Jorge Castillo from the Washington Post and interviews from Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Stephen Drew and Heisey. We will also take your phone calls at 1-800-636-1067.