Heasley records strong outing with O's vs. former team

April 3rd, 2024

BALTIMORE -- Two games into the 2024 season, an unexpected hole was created in the Orioles’ bullpen. Left-hander Cionel Pérez strained his right oblique during Saturday’s win over the Angels, so it was already time for a call to be made down to Triple-A Norfolk.

Jonathan Heasley wasn’t expecting it to be for him. The 27-year-old righty hadn’t thrown since reporting to Norfolk after Spring Training. He hadn’t even fully unpacked his truck, which sat in the parking lot of a hotel close to the Tides’ Harbor Park.

However, Heasley found out over the weekend he was being called up. And, as fate may have it, he was getting activated by Baltimore on Sunday -- one day before the club opened a three-game series vs. Kansas City, the team that selected him in the 13th round of the 2018 MLB Draft and gave him his first opportunity in the big leagues.

“Pretty crazy how this game works out. Pretty cool, for sure,” Heasley said. “They’ll always have a special place in my heart. But once we get in between those lines, it’s game on.”

That proved to be the case Tuesday night, as Heasley tossed two scoreless innings of relief in the Orioles’ 4-1 loss to the Royals at Camden Yards. He struck out the first two batters he faced (Hunter Renfroe and Garrett Hampson). Bobby Witt Jr. was hit by a pitch with two outs in the ninth, then got picked off and caught stealing to end Heasley’s outing.

After getting traded to Baltimore on Dec. 18, Heasley had a solid first spring with the O’s. Although he had a 4.15 ERA over eight Grapefruit League appearances, he allowed only two runs in eight innings over his final seven outings.

More importantly, Heasley spent the entire time in big league camp. He wasn’t optioned to the Minors until March 24, shortly before the Orioles’ Grapefruit finale vs. the Twins.

“The longer you’re there, the better. That’s what I would think. That’s the way I took it,” Heasley said. “Obviously, your goal’s always to make the team out of camp, and it would have been cool to make my first Opening Day roster.”

It didn’t take long for Heasley -- who had a 5.45 ERA and made 24 starts among 36 outings for the Royals from 2021-23 -- to make it back to the big leagues, though. He’ll be aiming to stay here for the rest of the season.

So far, so good. Heasley increased the usage of his sweeper in his Baltimore debut, using it for 15 of his 30 pitches. He induced two whiffs and four called strikes with the offering, which sat around 82 mph and mixed well with his other pitches (four-seam fastball, slider and curveball).

On a night when starter Cole Irvin allowed four runs in five innings and the Orioles’ bats were stymied by Royals right-hander Alec Marsh (one run allowed on two hits over seven frames), the bullpen kept the game close. Before Heasley pitched, righties Jacob Webb and Dillon Tate each struck out two over a scoreless inning apiece.

“For me, that’s one good thing about this game. I thought our bullpen threw the ball great,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Heasley there, last couple of innings, did a nice job.”

During his tenure in Kansas City, Heasley struggled to stick in the Majors. He made 21 starts in 2022, but he posted a 5.28 ERA. Then, after being converted to relief, he had a 7.20 ERA over 12 appearances in ‘23.

Perhaps this time, Heasley can carve out a permanent role. He’d love to be pitching for the defending American League East champions long term, as he told his wife, Taylor, during his drive from Norfolk to Baltimore this past weekend.

“It’s pretty crazy, tomorrow, I’m going to be activated for, in my opinion, one of the best teams in baseball,” Heasley told her then. “It’s definitely a little bit different feel.”

Because of that, Heasley is willing to do whatever the Orioles ask of him, as he proved Tuesday.

“Whatever they tell me to do, whenever they call my name,” Heasley said, “I’ll be ready to go.”