LOS ANGELES ― It is not unusual for a Major League Baseball player to live in one city during the offseason and work in another most of the year. Thousands of miles can separate their personal and professional lives.
Therein lies the irony of a minor league rehabilitation assignment taking Andrew Heaney to Oklahoma City. The pitcher was born there. He still lives there in the offseason. This was not lost on Heaney, who has spent the vast majority of his nine major league seasons on the West Coast.
“It was interesting being at home, driving to the field in Oklahoma City,” he said. “That was kind of strange. It was one of those things, like, I got to see family and hang out at my house. It didn’t really change anything I was doing. It was still a business trip kind of feel.”
Heaney will resume his usual routine with the Dodgers on Sunday, when he will be activated from the injured list to start against the Cleveland Guardians. It will be Heaney’s first start since April 17.
In two starts before he was sidelined with left shoulder inflammation, Heaney did not allow an earned run across 10⅓ innings. He used a revamped slider to strike out 16 batters.
Following two rehab starts with Triple-A OKC, Heaney threw five shutout innings Tuesday for Double-A Tulsa. The left-hander threw a side session Friday and is stretched out to pitch six innings on Sunday, Manager Dave Roberts said.
Heaney’s primary breaking ball is now more of a “sweeper,” featuring more horizontal movement than the traditional slider he threw for the Angels from 2015-21. His success going forward could hinge on the efficacy of that one pitch.
“Throwing fastballs is what I do well and what I’m most comfortable with,” Heaney said. “The slider’s a different grip, different thought process. Early on in the first rehab start, it wasn’t quite how I wanted it to be. The next one was a little better. The one in Tulsa was definitely the best. Just trying to continue that momentum, that feel, just try to get back to where I was at the beginning of the season.”
Heaney was able to celebrate his 30th birthday at home on June 5. Four days later, many of his friends and family came to watch him pitch in person, then visit with him afterward. That was his first professional start in his hometown.
“It was different. It was cool,” Heaney said. “I’m glad to be back.”
ROSTER SHUFFLE COMING
MLB will enforce a limit of 13 active pitchers beginning Monday. For the Dodgers, that means changes are coming.
They must cut two relievers from their 10-man bullpen, and add one position player, before their nine-game road trip to Cincinnati, Atlanta and Denver begins on Tuesday. That kicks off a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, which will test the limits of a bullpen that is accustomed to throwing one inning at a time.
“The 10 guys we have in the ’pen now … three or four guys can go one-plus,” Roberts said. “If we can piece three innings together with two guys, I think we have that ability.”
Left-handers Caleb Ferguson and Alex Vesia are the team’s only active relief pitchers who have yet to throw more than one inning at a time. A multi-inning reliever and spot starter in the past, Ferguson has spent much of this season rebuilding his endurance after missing all of 2021 to Tommy John surgery.
Among the Dodgers’ other active relievers, Yency Almonte has recorded more than three outs in the majority of his appearances (six). Evan Phillips (four), David Price (five) and Brusdar Graterol (six) are the only others who have more than two multi-inning appearances on their ledger this season.
Mitch White is an obvious candidate to fly in from Oklahoma City to relieve some of the burden. He’s accustomed to a hybrid starter/reliever role, going 1-1 with a 3.86 ERA in nine appearances this season. With Heaney rejoining the rotation Sunday, that would free White to shift back into a reliever’s role for a time.
“I’m sure we’re going to call on him at some point in time, I just don’t know when,” Roberts said of White. “I appreciate what he’s done for the club this season. It’s not unnoticed.”
Cleveland (RHP Cal Quantrill, 4-3, 3.38 ERA) at Dodgers (LHP Julio Urías, 3-6, 2.80 ERA), Saturday, 4:15 p.m., Fox (Ch. 11), 570 AM