Heasley shows off 'pretty rare' changeup as Royals kick off spring

March 19th, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The changeup Royals starter Jon Heasley threw to Nathaniel Lowe in the first inning of Friday’s spring opener against the Rangers was an intriguing snapshot of the work that Heasley put in this offseason to gain a better and more confident feel of his fourth pitch.

With a 3-1 count against Lowe in the Royals’ 5-5 tie at Surprise Stadium, Heasley dropped a changeup in to the left-handed batter, who swung and missed. Lowe grounded into a double play fielded cleanly by second baseman Nicky Lopez and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi on the next pitch to end the inning.

“I want to get it to the point where I can throw it in any count,” Heasley explained. “I think it’s such an important pitch, whether it’s [to a] righty or lefty. If I can have it coming out looking like a fastball, I can get a lot of outs early in the counts. Sneak one by like I did 3-1, and, like that, get a swing and miss and get back in the count there. I think it’s having the consistency with it, and the feel for it, to be comfortable throwing it in any count any time.”

Heasley threw 2 1/3 innings in his spring debut, allowing two hits and two runs (that scored when Foster Griffin allowed a three-run homer to Corey Seager) with two leadoff walks. The 25-year-old spent his offseason in the Dallas area, and even though he impressed with his changeup during his debut last season, he still made it a focus to refine his arsenal as much as he could.

“[His changeup] was good last year, and there were a number of times from the side where we just see the drop, and I swore it was a slider,” manager Mike Matheny said. “And, no, it was a changeup. He’s got that much vertical [movement] on it. That’s pretty impressive. He’s just got a good rhythm. We talked about when he had his opportunity last year. He comes right at guys, bulldog mentality and a good mix of stuff.

“That kind of right-handed changeup, it’s pretty rare.”

Heasley entered this spring in a much different spot than last year, having already made his debut. Now, he’s competing for a spot on the Opening Day pitching staff.

“It feels different, just having been up there for a little bit,” Heasley said. “But I know nothing’s guaranteed. I’m here to work and, hopefully, earn a job. That’s my main focus right now, just to get better every time I’m out there and continue to build off outings like this.”

Greinke faces live hitters
Zack Greinke stepped on a mound in Royal blue for the first time on Friday, throwing two innings of live batting practice against Nick Pratto, Clay Dungan and Dairon Blanco, the only right-hander in the group. Blanco even had a few of his bats broken by Greinke pounding the zone inside.

“You get to learn a lot against a guy with that much experience,” Pratto explained. “He asks a lot of questions, and you’re really getting a lot out of the back-and-forth. … And just how creative he is. He’s very analytical with how he attacks hitters.

“He’s going to be a good guy to have around the clubhouse, guys can pick his brain, and, obviously, he’s going to be a treat to watch as well.”

Royals kick off spring slate
Friday’s Cactus League opener featured the Royals’ first hit of spring -- a leadoff double from Whit Merrifield -- and the first home run of the spring, courtesy of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi.

In fact, the lineup Matheny wrote in the scorecard Friday morning looked an awful lot like a potential Opening Day lineup:

Whit Merrifield, RF
Nicky Lopez, 2B
Salvador Perez, C
Andrew Benintendi, LF
Carlos Santana, 1B
Hunter Dozier, DH
Adalberto Mondesi, SS
Bobby Witt Jr., 3B
Michael A. Taylor, CF

And it was hard not to feel the adrenaline pumping through Surprise Stadium during the first game of the spring. The Royals, though, did try to slow that adrenaline with their starters, as they’ve only been in camp for five days with the late start to Spring Training. Several were building up on their own, but the coaching staff and front office are stressing caution in these first few games, in hopes of preventing any injuries.

“The game is meant to be played,” Matheny said. “You love getting the work, getting the guys together, getting them built up, but nothing replaces getting out here on the field and in between the lines. The one thing we are going to have to be really careful about, though, is that we’ve had four days to be out here together on the field with other Major League talent on their spikes.

“We’ve already tried, and we’ll see if they follow along or not, but trying to pull the reins back in their effort level. I know that doesn’t sound right. It’s inherently against everything we believe, but it’s the right thing to do just for the first couple games and … see how their bodies are responding.”

The Royals don’t have a game Saturday, but will still work out as a club, likely getting some live batting practice in on the backfields.