His Peoria squad had technically already been eliminated from playoff contention entering Thursday, the final day of the Arizona Fall League regular season, so on paper there might not have been too much to play for. But for Javelinas starter Matt Heidenreich, that couldn't be further from the case, and it showed on the hill.
The Astros right-hander struck out six and allowed just one hit in four innings Thursday to lead Peoria to a 3-0 win over Surprise in the team's Fall League finale. He completes his time in Arizona with a 2-1 record, 2.14 ERA, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in six starts (21 innings).
Heidenreich fanned four of the first five Saguaros he faced before allowing a two-out double to Brett Nicholas in the second. He retired the next seven batters he faced and finished left the game after throwing 56 pitches, 39 for strikes.
The scoreless outing was the 6-foot-5 right-hander's fourth such start in six attempts this AFL season. That's a marked improvement coming from a hurler who posted an 8.23 ERA in 54 2/3 innings across 25 outings -- seven starts -- at Double-A Corpus Christi during the regular season.
That wasn't what Heidenreich expected in his first full season in the Astros system after being acquired in the deal that sent Brett Myers to the White Sox near the trade deadline in 2012. As such, the organization immediately got to work trying to fix his overall mechanics and delivery in an attempt to have the right-hander get more out of his lanky frame.
The results, which include an uptick in velocity, have been promising thus far.
"He's worked hard at it, and it's starting to pay off," Minor League pitching coach Dave Borkowski told MLB.com. "The velocity is coming up. He's able to pound the zone a little bit better, and his stuff is a little bit more crisp. Even now, with the conviction behind his pitches, he can get away with some things, whereas he had to be perfect before that."
Even Heidenreich, who is trying to rid himself of a head jerk in his delivery, has noticed some differences that he's hoping to carry into the offseason and the following 2014 campaign.
"It's a good feeling when you see it working," he told MLB.com. "It's like, 'OK, now you kind of give yourself to them and let them have their way with you.' It helps to see the difference. When you're holding these weird grips and doing these weird things, you're like, 'What am I doing? Man, I got here doing this other stuff. Why am I doing this?' All of a sudden, you start to see what they're talking about. You're like, 'These guys know what they're doing.'"
Joe Wieland (Padres), Kyle Hunter (Mariners), Dennis O'Grady (Padres), Austin Wright (Phillies) and Ken Giles (Phillies) each tossed scoreless innings in relief of Heidenreich to preserve Peoria's shutout.
Astros third baseman Jonathan Meyer went 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored in the win.
Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MiLB.com.