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Heston up for challenge of Triple-A
Giants right-hander has pitches, confidence to thrive in PCL
04/03/2013 10:00 AM ET
Chris Heston led the Eastern League with a 2.24 ERA last season.
Chris Heston led the Eastern League with a 2.24 ERA last season. (Kevin Pataky/MiLB.com)

Chris Heston has never pitched in the Pacific Coast League, but he has a pretty good idea what awaits him.

He's heard how hard the hitter-friendly environment can be for those who earn their keep on the mound and he's seen the highlights of sluggers launching prodigious homers that would be long outs anywhere else.

Still, Heston's not worried.

The Giants' No. 8 prospect has pitched in hostile environments and knows he has the tools that neutralize the advantage that batters seem to have. Make that "tool." Singular.

"I'm a sinker guy, so I'll try to get it down in the zone and on the ground," said the right-hander, who turns 25 on April 10. "Hopefully, the environment won't come into play too much. I need to make the sinker play and get teams to hit it on the ground. I like to think my fastball will play a lot."

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The East Carolina product's sinker -- which comes in around the low 90s -- is the most effective of his three offerings, which include a changeup and curveball.

Heston led the Giants organization with a 2.24 ERA last season, thanks in large part to a sinker that helped him induce 16 double plays and hold Eastern League opponents to a .230 average.

In many ways, Heston enjoys the best of both worlds. He has good enough stuff to make hitters swing and miss, but he's not afraid to pitch to contact, knowing that foes often will roll over a pitch or put his infield defense to work.

In fact, Heston embraces contact. He trusts his teammates to make plays and knows that a one-pitch groundout will help him work deeper into games than a seven-pitch battle that ends in a "K." It also means he isn't forced to nibble at corners, reducing the number of walks he issues.

That philosophy helped Heston ranked fourth in the league with 135 strikeouts while walking 40 batters over 148 2/3 innings with Double-A Richmond. His 1.10 WHIP led the circuit, and Heston can't wait for the next challenge.

"I'm excited to get the opportunity to play in Fresno and to have the opportunity to pitch at Triple-A and move up to a new league," he said. "I need to try and make the most of it.

"You need to know that you will probably give up a few home runs, but you just have to be ready to shake it off and go after the next guy."

Though the competition will be fiercer than in Richmond, the adversity that comes from a homer-happy league is nothing new to Heston, who went 12-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 24 starts in 2011 with Class A Advanced San Jose.

He gave up 10 homers that year -- more than he's allowed in 62 games in his three other seasons of pro ball combined -- but he did not let that statistic define him.

"I've heard [the PCL] is a big-time hitters' league," said Heston, a 2012 mid- and postseason All-Star. "The hitters there are a lot better and they're smarter and they've been around the game longer, but I think that keeping the ball down is still a big deal.

"The Cal League, I knew it was a hitters' league, but you can't think about it too much. If you go into the year with that on your mind, it's going to hurt you later."

A 2009 12th-round Draft pick, Heston has improved his ERA, strikeout rate and opponents' batting average in each of the last three years, despite moving from Augusta to San Jose to Richmond. Now, one step from the Majors, he's trying to keep his sights locked on the present, not wasting time thinking about what a hot start could do to his chances for the biggest promotion of them all.

"You're aware of those things," Heston said of being so close to the Majors, "but you keep them in the back of your mind and focus on the task at hand. Take care of the little things and you will get to your big goal at the end.

"It's one of those things you want to do as a little kid when you're out in the front yard playing ball. I've put in a lot of hard work and it would be a great opportunity, but I have to first go out there and do the things I can control."

Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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