San Francisco Giants

Chris Heston reflects on ‘ups and downs’ of first major-league season

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Chris Heston, right, is pulled by manager Bruce Bochy, left, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in San Francisco.
San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Chris Heston, right, is pulled by manager Bruce Bochy, left, during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in San Francisco. AP

SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Heston’s final start of the season Friday night began with a seven-pitch, 1-2-3 first inning. It ended with the right-hander walking off the mound in the fourth, having allowed eight runs in the Giants’ 9-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies.

In a way, it reflected the arc of Heston’s rookie season. Called up on short notice in April to take the rotation spot of injured Matt Cain, Heston was a revelation early, winning 11 of his first 20 starts with a 3.14 ERA and providing one of the highlights of the first half with his June 9 no-hitter in New York. In his final 11 starts, Heston went 1-6 with a 5.92 ERA, culminating in his setting a career-high for runs allowed Friday night.

"You definitely want to take a good one into the offseason, and it definitely didn’t work out that way tonight," Heston said. "But I’ve got to look at the positives from the whole year and try to build on them for next year -- get into the offseason, get strong, have a good one and come back ready to go."

There will certainly be positives to look at. Heston was not expected to be a big factor for the Giants this year, but he played a big part in stabilizing the Giants’ rotation after it lost both Cain and Jake Peavy in the first weeks of the season. Heston will finish the season 12-11 with a 3.95 ERA in 31 starts, the most wins by a Giants rookie pitcher since Cain had 13 in 2006. And for at least one night in New York, he was unhittable, becoming the first Giants rookie in 103 years to hurl a no-hitter.

At his best, Heston attacked the strike zone with pitches that all moved and generated a lot of ground balls. But his second-half struggles seemed to coincide with a drop-off in command. Heston walked 41 hitters in 86 innings over his final 15 starts, compared to just 21 walks in 85 1/3 innings in his first 15. He said Friday night the walks were "the first thing that really jumps off the page."

The Giants sent Heston down to Triple-A for a brief rest in late August because of his workload, and Heston acknowledged Friday that his "velocity was down there towards the end (of the season)." He said that might have figured into the walk totals: Knowing his pitches weren’t as lively later on, he tried to be too fine with them.

"Instead of just pitching, I’m kind of trying to place stuff out there," Heston said. "That’s a product of trying to feel for stuff instead of just trusting my stuff and attacking hitters."

Heston walked just one batter Friday night, but it was costly. He issued it to Colorado pitcher Kyle Kendrick with one out and nobody on in the third, and the Rockies went on to score five runs in the inning. Corey Dickerson hit a two-run home run in the inning, and Nolan Arenado also homered off Heston in the second, continuing another troubling trend. Heston allowed 16 homers in his 31 starts, and 10 came in his final 10 outings.

This was Heston’s first season pitching all the way through September, and he admitted the rigors of his first major-league season took their toll physically. Heston said he went into spring training "heavy," but he dropped more weight over the course of the season than he wanted to, and it affected his stamina. Heston said he plans to spend the offseason working out at the Giants’ facility in Arizona to be physically ready for 2016.

"I’ve really got to focus on getting strong this offseason, giving myself a good platform to stay strong through the season and have the same stuff early as I did late," he said.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said that next season he’d like to see Heston "really get back to who he is, and that’s using both side of the plate and cutting down on walks."

"At times it looks like he backs off a little bit," Bochy said. "I’d just like to see him stay aggressive, every pitch, every hitter. I know he’s concentrating on throwing strikes, but you can try too hard at times, and I think he does."

Friday’s outing notwithstanding, Heston seemed to be encouraged by his first season in the majors. He said that had somebody told him during spring training he would win 12 games in the majors this year, "I would’ve said you were crazy, I’m sure. So it’s been successful, it really has. There’s been ups and downs, and that comes along with kind of growing pains in anybody’s season. I’m just going to try to build on the positives from this year and take it into next year."

Whether Heston will go into next spring with a spot in the Giants rotation remains to be seen, as the Giants will likely spend this winter partly addressing a rotation that showed signs of wear in 2015. But in his rookie year, the 27-year-old showed he’ll be a viable option for the Giants going forward.

"Great start to the season," Bochy said. "But he’s had his ups and downs. Tonight really the pitcher killed him, not getting him out. At times he was good, and he made a few mistakes. It wasn’t his night, couple balls that weren’t hit well, they found holes. But I think overall it’s been a good year for him, it just got spotty at the end."

* As Heston’s line indicated, Friday’s game was decided early -- and Arenado had a big hand in that. The Rockies third baseman followed his solo homer in the second inning by hitting a two-run double in the third, continuing a season of tormenting the Giants with his bat.

Arenado has 10 home runs against the Giants this year, the most by any opponent since Atlanta’s Dale Murphy hit 11 in 1983. Six of those homers have come at AT&T Park, a stadium that’s about as different from Coors Field as it gets in terms of producing power hitting numbers.

Put it this way: Matt Duffy and Brandon Crawford share the Giants’ team lead with seven home runs this season at AT&T Park. Arenado has hit six in seven games.

"He’s killed us," Bochy said. "He likes hitting in this ballpark … You look at the guy’s season, I know he’s done damage against other clubs, but I think most of it has been against us. You’ve got to execute your pitches against a really good hitter -- I’d say a great hitter, that’s the kind of year he’s had this year -- and for some reason we make a lot of mistakes to him."

Arenado’s second-inning homer was his 42nd of the season, which leads the N.L. And he has two more games at AT&T Park to pad that total.

* The Giants’ third baseman didn’t have a bad night, either. Matt Duffy went 1-for-4 in the loss, but before the game, he was named the recipient of the prestigious Willie Mac Award, given to the Giants’ most inspirational player as voted by teammates, coaches, staff and fans. Duffy is the first rookie to win the award in its 35-year history.

More on the award and the season Duffy has put together can be found here. After the game, Duffy shared his reaction to the honor, first deflecting praise to his teammates.

"I’m going to turn it around and give the credit to the veterans," Duffy said. "They’ve made my transition to this team since I came up last year so much easier. And when they’re as welcoming as they are to new guys, it really allows you to just relax and have fun, play the game that you played growing up, the same way you were taught.

"For me that was to play hard, with passion, and have as much fun as possible. I think when you’re able to do that it, I guess, inspires guys or whatever. But like I said, I think it’s because they’ve been so welcoming to me and all the new guys that come up."

Duffy said the recognition really sunk in as previous recipients of were introduced during an on-field pre-game ceremony. He hadn’t found out until earlier in the day that he would be receiving the award -- unlike certain members of his family. Duffy said his sister is in Europe but texted him around noon saying she wished she could have been at Friday’s game. Duffy’s reaction was: "Why?"

Also clued in well before was Duffy’s father, Tom, who was on the field to greet Duffy after he made a short speech to the crowd. The two shared a long embrace -- longer than Duffy expected.

"I kinda hugged him and he just kinda held on," Duffy said. "So I was like, all right, just take it in."

Duffy said he asked his father if he was OK, "And he was like, ‘Yeah are you?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’m in game mode. I’ve got to take the field in a couple seconds."

Bochy said that Duffy’s becoming the first rookie to win the award, having played just 180 games in the majors, shows "how well-respected he is by his teammates."

"How he plays the game, every pitch, every at-bat, defensively, the way he runs the bases, he hasn’t had a break in a while (116 consecutive games played)," Bochy said. "He’s got all their respect, just his style of ball and how hard he plays."

Duffy listed a number of other Giants players who could have won the award: Brandon Crawford, Javier Lopez, Tim Hudson and Jeremy Affeldt among them.

"It was kind of one of those things where if I was named, I would be honored and pleasantly surprised at the same time," Duffy said. "It could have been anybody."

* The Giants may not be allowing Marlon Byrd’s 2016 contract option to vest by letting him reach 550 plate appearances, but it’s another situation with closer Santiago Casilla. Casilla reportedly has an option for next year that will vest at $6.5 million if he finishes 55 games this season. He was at 53 before Friday, when Bochy brought him in with two outs in the ninth and the Giants down six runs. Casilla finished the game, and now needs just one more for the option to vest.

* Neither of these teams is playing for the postseason, but they are locked in another kind of race. The Giants and Rockies entered Friday ranked first and second in the National League, respectively, in batting average. And they actually ended the game with the exact same number of at-bats on the season: 5,503. The Giants have six more hits, so their .267 team average still leads the league. Something to track the final two days.

Game two of the series has Giants right-hander Jake Peavy (7-6, 3.66) opposing Rockies left-hander Chris Rusin (6-9, 5.37). First pitch at 1:05 p.m.

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