On Friday night, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker took the direct route when telling 31-year-old Chris Heisey he had made the team. Baker called Heisey into his office, told him the good news in simple terms, and made Heisey happy and sad.
“It stinks because [since] I got good news, that means a couple guys got bad news,” Heisey said. “We all became pretty close in spring training. It’s bittersweet, but at the same time, I’m happy for me and my family.”
Heisey has not played well for three seasons, hitting just .224 during that time, though he’s a versatile fielder who can play all three outfield positions and has proven to be a skilled pinch hitter.
When he played for Baker with the Cincinnati Reds, Baker told him to “hunt a fastball” and get his swings in when he pinch-hit. That approach has worked for Heisey. He has hit .282 when summoned as a pinch-hitter. He also has 11 home runs in 142 pinch-hit at-bats. Most of those at-bats have been in above-average leverage situations. According to Baseball Reference’s Pinch Hit Leverage Index, Heisey’s pinch-hit at-bats were rated a 1.28, with a 1.0 rating considered average leverage.
Heisey also sees other components to his job.
“I know as a bench player, you have more to do than just pinch-hit,” Heisey said. “You’ve got to pick up your teammates that are playing everyday. Those guys need to be patted on the back and be told how well they’re doing. Or when they’re struggling, maybe I can find something to get them back going well again. There’s other intangibles I like to think I can bring to a team.”
Heisey being on the team, means Matt den Dekker, Reed Johnson and Brendan Ryan are not. Den Dekker was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse. Johnson and Ryan were in limbo as of Saturday morning.
In the bullpen, Blake Treinen remains. Trevor Gott, who was acquired in an offseason trade for Yunel Escobar, was sent to Triple-A Syracuse. Baker said he wants Gott to work on his secondary pitches, calling his fastball “electric.”
Keeping Treinen also means Sean Burnett will not be with the team despite an outstanding spring. Burnett made nine appearances, did not allow a run, and had an 0.81 WHIP. Burnett struck out seven in 8 2/3 innings.
“It came down to a matter of numbers,” Baker said. “Who don’t you keep? [Shawn] Kelley signed a three-year contract. Belisle has an outstanding track record. Do you carry three left-handers or two left-handers? And the rest of the bullpen was kind of set as it was. [Yusmeiro] Petit is coming off a couple World Series. It was a very, very, very tough decision, especially with Mike Rizzo involved, because he’s close to Sean Burnett. We would have liked to keep them all. And, if they don’t get a big-league job, we’d still like to have them back, but you can’t stand in the way of their careers and be so selfish that you want them back and they’re not in the big leagues and be in the minor leagues.”
The players who received bad news weren’t the only ones who took the negative announcements to heart. Baker said he didn’t sleep well Friday night after making the decisions.
“It affects me,” Baker said. “I’ve been there. I know their families are affected. But it’s a big-boy game, and that’s part of the game.”
OF Michael A. Taylor (R)
1B/OF Clint Robinson (L)
C Jose Lobaton (R)
SS Stephen Drew (R)
OF Chris Heisey (R)
Jonathan Papelbon (R)
Felipe Rivero (L)
Blake Treinen (R)
Oliver Perez (L)
Shawn Kelley (R)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Matt Belisle (R)