Andrew Heaney was about to enter his first full season of professional baseball, then he found out there would be nothing "full" about it. Now that he's back on the mound after missing nearly the first two months of the season with a lat strain, he's off to a good start, even if it's not the one he envisioned.
The Marlins' No. 4 prospect allowed four hits and a walk while striking out six over five shutout innings Sunday afternoon in his second start for Class A Advanced Jupiter, but it wasn't enough to keep the Hammerheads from falling to Palm Beach, 1-0.
Heaney has yet to surrender an earned run in 9 1/3 innings in his first two starts of 2013. He has fanned 15 while giving up eight hits and three walks over that span.
As spotless as he's been in box scores, the 21-year-old left-hander believes he's still finding his way on the mound after the first injury of his baseball career.
"Obviously the biggest thing is getting back out there and getting my feeling back after getting that first taste of competition back," he said. "The results were there today, but I've still got things I'm working on. I had chances to put guys away earlier, and I failed to do that, even if I didn't give up any runs."
There were times when Sunday's scoreless outing was in doubt, however.
After retiring the first four Cardinals he faced, he gave up a single and a stolen base to Jonathan Rodriguez and followed that with a walk to Nick Longmire two batters later. Both advanced on steals with Jesus Montero batting with two outs. Heaney managed to get Montero swinging to end the threat.
Two frames later, the southpaw gave up a leadoff double to Danny Stienstra and plunked Anthony Garcia, this time with one out. But again, Heaney met the challenge by retiring Longmire and Montero.
He stranded Colin Walsh at third following a double and wild pitch in the fifth to conclude his day.
Even if there were moments of frustration, Heaney still had to admit it was a positive step toward post-injury normalcy.
"The fact that I didn't have my best stuff today and still didn't give up any runs, it's obviously a good thing," he said. "You know, I'll talk it over with our pitching coach and work on some stuff in my side sessions. But I'm happy it kind of worked out today."
And a day like Sunday certainly felt like a long time coming for the left-hander.
After being selected ninth overall in last year's Draft out of Oklahoma State, Heaney was set to begin his first full season in the Minor Leagues. But the left-hander strained a lat in a simulated game during the offseason, setting back his full-season debut by close to two months.
"I've never had to deal with an injury before. I've actually been pretty lucky with health before this," he said. "But after getting back to throwing and lifting, I had to basically simulate Spring Training all over again while the other guys were playing. … It was a long process, and you kind of get angry being across the street from those guys here in Jupiter, who are playing every night. I'd rehab during the day and then go over and watch from the stands. It's tough. "
But given the layoff, it only made the return -- and what has followed -- all the sweeter.
"It's been a little bit more exciting than a usual start to the year, just because I've been away for so long," Heaney said. "For these other guys who have been playing for two months, it's nothing. It's a little different for me, obviously. But from here on out, it's pretty much just taking everything one start at a time and improving and getting that feeling back."
Palm Beach starter Corey Baker struck out four and allowed two hits and one walk in four innings while Jose Almarante, Danny Miranda and Heath Wyatt combined on five one-hit frames to close out Sunday's shutout. Rodriguez went 3-for-4 and drove in the game's only run with a single in the bottom of the eighth.