Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Giants turn to rookie Chris Heston for a second helping

Giants starting pitcher Chris Heston during the second inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015.
Giants starting pitcher Chris Heston during the second inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. The Associated Press

Bruce Bochy leaned forward in his chair, stuck a fork in a piece of broccoli, and swore that was the end of it. No, not the postgame meal. Scallops and other greens were scattered on the plate, yet to be devoured.

He was talking about the Giants’ 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, a clunker of a performance on an otherwise beautiful Saturday afternoon at AT&T Park. His players managed seven hits, felt the wrath of that confounding right-field wall, failed to turn any spectacular defensive plays or do anything else that might have enabled Ryan Vogelsong to escape before his record dipped to 9-10.

“You’ve got to move on,” the Giants’ manager said in his office. “If you get on that roller coaster ride, with the ups and downs, that will kill you. I tell the players that. Believe me. I’d have felt worse if we had lost 1-0.”

He’s been a big part of our success this year, but he was getting into some bad habits.

Giants general manager Bobby Evans on Chris Heston

Eat, drink and move on. That’s his motto. Bochy has tasted World Series champagne three times in the last five seasons, and while some observers look at his rotation and immediately think X-rays, MRIs and emergency call-ups from the minor leagues, he is giving the ball back to Chris Heston on Sunday and expecting the rookie to fill in capably – for the second time this season – for ailing veteran Matt Cain.

The former staff workhorse, who started 15 games last year and was forced to watched the postseason from the dugout after undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow, was placed on the 15-day disabled list Friday for the second time this season. In 10 starts, he has struggled to a 2-4 record with a 6.15 ERA.

But his misery has plenty of familiar company. Tim Lincecum (hip), Tim Hudson (shoulder strain) and Jeremy Affeldt (left knee) are in various stages of recovery. There is no whining from Bochy, though, nor from Heston.

The tall, rangy right-hander takes a 11-7 record and a 3.34 ERA into Sunday’s start against the Cardinals, along with the knowledge he has been here before – most of the 2015 season, in fact – and already has a no-hitter on his résumé.

As for his recent demotion to the River Cats? What was supposed to be an extended breather was shortened by Cain’s injury.

“I love this kid,” Bochy said. “We just felt he needed a break. We had a little concern with the workload we put on him. His first full year in the major leagues. Innings, pitches. But he’s fine, healthy, ready to go.”

A native of Palm Bay, Fla., Heston is accustomed to a slower, more deliberate approach. He attended Seminole Community College and East Carolina before the Giants selected him in the 12th round of the 2009 first-year player draft. They waived him in July 2013, then re-signed him two weeks later. After going 12-9 with a 3.38 ERA at Triple-A Fresno last year, he spent most of last September with the Giants.

But this is completely different. Similar to Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, Andrew Susac and most recently Kelby Tomlinson, Heston is more than a prospect. He is being counted on to produce, and to do so under the bright lights, and with the injury-riddled Giants scratching for a postseason berth.

Heston isn’t overpowering, but his repertoire is varied – sinker, breaking ball, slider, changeup. His fastball usually hovers between 89 and 92 mph, and when he commands his sinker, he keeps the ball low, nibbles at the corners, and induces hitters into grounders.

He’s got the ability to mix it up, throw any pitch at any time.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy on Chris Heston

After Heston failed to get beyond five innings in three of four starts – and went 0-2 with a 4.58 ERA during that period – Giants general manager Bobby Evans and Bochy decided the right-hander would benefit from some time in Sacramento, where he threw bullpen sessions but did not start.

“At times he’s been one of our best starters,” Evans said, “so, hopefully, the rest will recharge his batteries, get his arm angle up. He’s been a big part of our success this year, but he was getting into some bad habits.”

Bochy also said Heston “does the little things,” such as keeping runners close, being a reasonable threat at the plate, and maintaining his poise.

Again, he sees that plate as half full, no matter how the injury situation strains his creativity genes. It’s hardly all about the pitchers, either. Buster Posey, who was hit by a pitch on the left elbow Friday night, was given the day off, but is expected to play Sunday. The list of ailing Giants still includes Hunter Pence (oblique), Panik (lower back inflammation), Angel Pagan (knee tendinitis) and Brandon Crawford (oblique), though Crawford likely will return next week.

But since Bochy always starts with his starting pitchers, let’s leave it with that. He says he’s not worried. He swears as much.

“They’ve been doing a pretty good job,” he insisted. “(Mike) Leake is going to solidify this rotation. I like the way (Jake) Peavy has been throwing the ball. (Madison) Bumgarner ... Vogelsong was throwing the ball well. I know he’s a guy we’re looking at hopefully for six innings. Cain, obviously, he is a little concern. We had to put him on the DL. But I have confidence these guys are going to give us a chance to win. They’re battle-tested. And Heston, there’s not a lot not to like about him. He’s got the ability to mix it up, throw any pitch at any time.”

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