Piniella Could Be Heilman’s Savior
- Mariners trade RHP Aaron Heilman to the Cubs for INF Ronny Cedeno and LHP Garrett Olson:
Remember a journeyman lefty named Ron Villone?
Villone was a New Jersey product and was in his rookie season for the Seattle Mariners in 1995 when, on June 9th, a little over a month into his rookie season, he got the opportunity to pitch against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in a mop up role during an 11-1 Mariners win. His family was there to see the event and as he came into the game to start the eighth inning, he was understandably (to most rational people) having trouble throwing strikes.
The score was 7-1 when Villone entered the game and the boxscore only says that Villone walked one batter in his two innings of work, but on closer inspection, it’s clear that he was struggling because in those two innings, he threw 41 pitches and only 22 were strikes. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been that big of a deal for most managers; a patient manager will understand that a rookie from New Jersey, pitching in Yankee Stadium for the first time in front of family and friends is going to be a little nervous and said manager is give him a bit of time to get acclimated and calm himself down, especially with a six run lead; but that’s with ordinary managers. It just so happened that the manager of the Seattle Mariners at that time was Lou Piniella.
As Villone struggled, throwing eight pitches to Luis Polonia as Polonia singled and walking Wade Boggs, Piniella ambled out to the mound with a look on his face that would’ve sent Chuck Norris running for the hills…*
*There is no chin under Chuck Norris’s beard; there is only another fist.
…before Piniella even got to the mound he was already cussing a blue streak at his young lefty. Reading his lips, the quotes, to the best of my recollection were: “What the <bleep>?!?” in more of a demand than a question; and then: “Throw the <bleeping> ball!!” With that, Piniella turned and stalked back to the dugout remembering why he hates pitchers so much and lamenting how much he needs them.
Villone regained his composure, struck out both Paul O’Neill and Mike Stanley looking and, after the Mariners scored four more runs in the top of the ninth, retired the side in order in the bottom of the ninth. I tell this story because I believe that Piniella’s temperament may be the key for Aaron Heilman to fulfill the potential that made him a first round draft pick for the Mets.
Heilman has been in the Mets bullpen for the past four seasons; despite having some success out there, he never seemed to like it and was never truly comfortable with the role. He wanted to start and because of the way former Mets pitching coach felt about Heilman’s complicated motion (he lifts his throwing elbow inordinately high above his shoulder when getting into throwing position and he has a difficult to repeat three-quarter release point) and how he felt it would lead to a physical breakdown if Heilman’s asked to throw too many innings—-and with the number of innings required if he’s going to be a starter—-he was better suited to the bullpen.
The way Heilman was a member in good standing of the group of game-arsonists in the Mets bullpen that played a major part in the Mets meltdowns in 2007 and 2008, in addition to being the pitcher who gave up Yadier Molina’s game-winning homer in game seven of the 2006 NLCS, made it almost impossible to bring Heilman back for 2009; the fans booed him at every turn and if he wasn’t going to get a chance to start, he wanted to be traded. Heilman was sent to the Mariners in the deal that brought J.J. Putz to the Mets; it was unclear what the Mariners were going to do with him, but it seemed as if they were intent on keeping him in the bullpen as well.
Now, with this trade to the Cubs, it may be Heilman’s chance to show what he can do as a starter without having a guy like Peterson in his face with his facts, figures, computer printouts and mechanical analysis that were keeping Heilman from the starting rotation. Instead of having someone with the verbosity and cerebral approach of Peterson, he’s going to have a veteran, old-school pitching coach in Larry Rothschild and a raving maniac for a manager in Piniella.
This isn’t to imply that Piniella is the answer to all of Heilman’s problems, but with the way Heilman’s career has gone, maybe he needs a pitching coach who’s not going to cloud his mind with technical jargon and a manager that’s going to let him know that if he doesn’t do the job, he’s not going to pitch and in the midst of that, cuss at him if he’s making panic stricken faces, giving up homers and walking people.
It takes a certain type of pitcher to deal with Lou Piniella, but if he does the job, he’ll get the ball; if not, he won’t. Heilman wanted the chance to start, he’s appar
ently going to get it near where he went to college at Notre Dame. This is the best possible place for Heilman to succeed, and if he doesn’t do it now at age 30, he likely never will.
- Diamondbacks sign RHP Jon Garland to a one-year contract for a $6.25 million base salary with a mutual option for 2010:
Arizona might not be the best fit in the world for Jon Garland. Garland is a pure contact pitcher who gives up a lot of home runs; the Diamondbacks defense is—-let’s be kind—-porous at best. Garland’s ratio of ground balls/fly balls-line drives in 2008 was about even, so if the Diamondbacks defense is as bad as it was last year (specifically with Mark Reynolds at third base and Felipe Lopez replacing Gold Glover Orlando Hudson at second), Garland’s going to struggle.
On the upside, he’ll provide the 200+ innings that he does every year and the National League West isn’t exactly loaded with a ton of power bats, but going from Brandon Webb and Dan Haren to the likes of Doug Davis, Garland and a youngster like Max Scherzer or Yusmeiro Petit is a big drop off. On another bright side, the Diamondbacks have a great group of young, power bats who are only going to improve as they gain more experience; if Garland can hang around in games, even if he pitches to a 5.00+ ERA, the Diamondbacks offense and bullpen should give him his 14-16 wins and 14-16 losses to go along with those innings he’ll gobble, but when he’s bad, he’ll be really bad and if the Diamondbacks go in to the season knowing what to expect, they shouldn’t complain with what they get from Garland and he’s not costing all that much either.