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Chris Heston is here to stay: Why rookie pitcher will remain with Giants even after Jake Peavy and Matt Cain return

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Coming into the 2015 season, right-hander Chris Heston wasn’t even part of the Giants’ 25-man roster.

Now, he’s arguably one of the most valuable players of the team, leading the starting rotation in wins (2), quality starts (3), ERA (.87) and WHIP (.97). Heston’s totals also place him amongst the league’s rookie elite:

Not that any of this matters to Heston. He’s just happy to be up with the ball club.

“I’m on cloud nine right now and I think I have been since I got here,” he said to reporters after making his third start of the season. “I’m just trying to stick to the process and hopefully I can keep it going.”

While modesty is clearly one of his strong suits, there’s nothing modest about what Heston has meant to a team that remains in last place following a three-game sweep of the Dodgers.

His first win of the season—and of his MLB career—came after six shutout innings against the Diamondbacks, securing the Giants’ only series victory to date before they ran roughshod over Los Angeles. In his last outing, he put an end to the team’s longest losing streak in nearly five years (eight games), firing off 7 2/3 innings of one-run baseball to best Arizona for a second time.

In between, Heston twirled another one-run gem in San Francisco’s home opener against the Rockies, but took a hard-luck loss as the offense failed to score any runs.

Pretty impressive resume. You might even call it historical:

How is he doing it? Expert command and movement, particularly on his bread-and-butter sinkerball, along with some good fortune.

Heston has been pounding the strike zone with effectiveness, walking just over two batters per nine innings and inducing ground balls for nearly two-thirds of his outs, per Fangraphs. But he’s also been aided by an exceptionally low opponents’ average on balls in play (.246) and an incredibly high rate of stranding runners (81.6)—numbers that are unlikely to hold up for the duration of the season.

Still, it’s clear from watching the kid that he has a high baseball IQ—i.e. he knows how to pitch for the “big outs”—and has packed on enough bulk to get him through a full big-league season.

And that’s exactly what he’s going to get if he can stay healthy, even with Matt Cain and Jake Peavy coming off the disabled list in the not-too-distant future.

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San Francisco is taking its time nursing its former aces back to health, but when both are ready to rejoin the team, it won’t be Heston’s roster spot they’re taking over. Even if the rookie slows down his torrid pace, he’s proven too valuable to stash in Sacramento.

Instead, I see the Giants making room by doing some combination of the following:

  • Making room for a 13th pitcher by sending down a position player—likely Hector Sanchez or Andrew Susac. There’s no real need to keep both.
  • Moving down whichever reliever is lowest on the totem pole. My vote is for Jean Machi with the way George Kontos has pitched thus far.
  • Parting ways with Ryan Vogelsong, particularly if he continues to struggle. The veteran’s currently on a one-year deal for just $4 million.

Sure, these moves would leave the Giants with an extra starting pitcher, but is that really the worst thing in the world given the rotation’s collective age? You could make the argument that having Heston throw every five days is Sacramento is the smarter move, but he wouldn’t exactly be gathering dust as the team’s sixth starter/long man.

As an aside, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Peavy go down again at some point this season given his injury history, which would open up more opportunities for Heston anyway.

Before I speculate too much on the future, though, let’s all take the time to recognize the rookie for his present contributions. In a season filled with few bright spots, Heston has been a bonafide star.

And he’s not going anywhere.

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