Right-hander Chris Heston spent most of last season, when healthy, pitching at Triple-A Sacramento, before the Giants traded him to the Seattle Mariners over the winter.
“I didn’t waste any time getting back,” Heston said Friday.
For his first start with his new organization, Heston will face his former one. Starting this season with the Mariners’ Triple-A Tacoma affiliate, Heston is scheduled to pitch on Saturday evening against the River Cats at Raley Field.
Heston said it’ll be strange opposing the organization that drafted him and where he still counts many friends. The 28-year-old spent eight seasons in the Giants system and was a key member of their major-league rotation as a rookie in 2015.
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His performance dipped last year, and the Giants traded him in December to make room on the 40-man roster for new closer Mark Melancon.
“The Giants was all I ever knew,” Heston said prior to Friday’s game. “That was kind of like home to me.
“It was a different thing to be traded and then work in the offseason to try to prepare for a new club, where you don’t know where you fit in. It was interesting. But at the same time it was a cool experience, and I think it’s going to work out in the long run.”
Heston had a rocky first spring with the Mariners, recording a 6.94 ERA in five outings. He said he spent the last couple weeks working on a mechanical issue he found with his sinker – similar to what dogged him in his final year with the Giants.
Heston was one of the Giants’ most reliable starters for the first half of 2015, highlighted by his 11-strikeout no-hitter June 9 against the Mets in New York. But his numbers tailed off later that year – he still finished the season 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA – and the Giants’ attempt at making him their long man in the bullpen at the start of 2016 failed.
Sent back to Triple-A Sacramento, Heston went 2-8 with a 3.77 ERA before suffering an oblique strain in late June that sidelined him until August. He returned to make two more starts with the River Cats, allowing 11 runs in 9 2/3 innings.
Heston throws his sinker a majority of the time, and when he struggles it can be because he’s getting under the ball and not generating the right kind of downward movement through the strike zone. He said this spring he focused on staying tall in his delivery and driving the ball down in the zone.
“When I lose a handle on the sinker I can get in some trouble, and that was kind of the thing for me last year was getting in a lot of hitters’ counts and throwing a lot of balls and not helping myself out really,” Heston said. “The focus is to get back to being a strike thrower and getting early contact and letting the defense work.”
Heston wasn’t expected to break camp with the Mariners after they traded for veteran Yovani Gallardo to round out a rotation that includes Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Ariel Miranda. But he said he’s working closely with Seattle’s pitching coaches hoping to show he can still be a factor at the major-league level.
“I see where it’s going to take me,” he said. “So I’m excited to stick to the process and see where it goes.”
A 12th-round draft pick by the Giants in 2009, Heston said he has fond memories of his time in the organization.
“It was a blast,” he said. “I made some best friends that I still talk to to this day, coaches and front office people that I’m still in touch with.
“That is all I knew. But it’s been exciting to get over on the other side of things, and see how another organization goes about their business, and try to have as much fun with it as possible.”