MIAMI — Miami Marlins left-hander Andrew Heaney exudes a calm demeanor, but he admitted to being nervous Thursday night for his major-league debut against the New York Mets.
His wife dropped him off at Marlins Park around 3:30 p.m., because he couldn’t continue pacing his hotel room. Even his family visiting from Oklahoma knew to give him space. While teammates began to filter in for pregame stretch and batting practice, he played "Clash of Clans" on his iPad, a combat strategy game Triple-A friends hooked him on.
Hours later, Heaney took the loss in a 1-0 defeat to the Mets, his lone blemish a two-out solo home run by David Wright in the first inning.
"You never know how you’re going to react when you get out there, so the first few innings, just a little antsy, getting quick to the plate," said Heaney, who allowed four hits in six innings. "I had to calm myself down and just trust myself."
Leadoff batter Eric Young Jr. reached on an infield single to the hole at short to open the game before Heaney induced a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Daniel Murphy.
Wright followed by hitting the sculpture in left-center. The decisive blow came on a 93 mph fastball on a 2-2 count.
"I just remember throwing a fastball right down the middle, and he hit it really far," Heaney said.
Heaney threw three straight balls to the next batter, Eric Campbell, before getting a popout to short. It took 23 pitches (13 strikes) to get through his first big-league inning and 60 through three.
But he settled down after that and got into a rhythm.
After the first six hitters worked at-bats of at least five pitches, things clicked during a seven-pitch fourth — his first perfect frame as a big leaguer. Of the 21 batters faced, he threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of them, including 10 of the first 12.
Seven of his outs came on grounders (double plays in the first and sixth), six through the air and three via strikeouts. Of his 91 pitches, 56 were strikes. He also walked a batter in second.
"I thought he looked great," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "You could tell he might have been a little bit nervous at the beginning, just kind of cutting some pitches off. All in all did a great job. He made a lot of big pitches, mixing his slider and changeup in really, really well. That’s a good hitting ballclub over there. Keeping them to one run is impressive."
Manager Mike Redmond thought Heaney’s tempo might have been slow during the early part of the game before his offspeed pitches gained some crispness.
As to how the 23-year-old performed, Redmond thought he lived up to his reputation by giving his club a chance to win. During Grapefruit League action, he impressed with his poise as a non-roster invitee at his first spring training.
In 13 appearances (12 starts) between Double-A Jacksonville and Triple-A New Orleans prior to his call-up, Heaney went 7-2 with a 2.47 ERA. He had a career minor-league record of 17-7 with a 2.31 ERA.
"It’s about what I expected," Redmond said. "I saw him in spring training, and his stuff was good. You never know with the young guys. Lot of emotions that people never understand, what guys go through their very first start whether it’s pitching or a position player.
"Nobody has any idea what you bring to it. I thought he handled himself, competed, showed a little fire on a big double play there. He’s going to be a big leaguer for a long time. I was very happy with the way he went out and competed. Just too bad we couldn’t score a couple runs to get him the win."
Heaney entered his debut with just 38 career minor-league appearances, second-fewest of any Marlins pitcher who was a first-round pick before making their MLB debut. The only one with less experience? Jose Fernandez (27 outings).
Coincidentally, Fernandez made his debut against the Mets on April 7, 2013. He went five innings, allowing an earned run on three hits in a no decision. The Marlins dropped that game 4-3.
Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler, who recorded his first shutout Thursday, could relate to Heaney. Last season, Wheeler earned his debut as a highly touted prospect and former first-round selection.
"I was sitting on the bench just watching him, knowing that I was there not too long ago and knowing how it felt," said Wheeler, who allowed three hits. "He has a good arm, and he’s going to do well."
Heaney became only the sixth Marlin to go at least six innings and give up one earned run or fewer in their MLB debut, joining Chuck Smith (2000), Brad Penny (2000), Josh Beckett (2001), Adalberto Mendez (2010) and Brad Hand (2011).
Though the club didn’t get a win, his outing showed the promise of tomorrow from baseball’s top southpaw starting pitching prospect.
So what’s next?
"Like I do with any other start I’m going to come in tomorrow get my work in and get ready to pitch in five days in Philly," Heaney said.