Chris Heston was a fantasy darling for the first half of the 2015 season, but an improved rotation and an oblique injury kept him out of the majors for the majority of 2016. Prior to suffering the injury mid-season, the 28-year-old put up lackluster numbers in 14 starts with Triple-A Sacramento (4.54 ERA and a 1.7 K/BB ratio). Heston's power sinker and big curveball give him a unique repertoire for a starter, but his inability to control those pitches with regularity makes him a volatile asset. He was traded to the Mariners this offseason for a player to be named later, which shows just how far his stock has fallen over the past year. Heston will have to compete with Nathan Karns and Ariel Miranda for the final two spots in the Mariners rotation. Heston will likely lose out and open the year at Triple-A, but he should eventually find his way to at least a handful of starts with his new club in 2017.
Heston was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday, Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times reports. Heston spent the majority of his 2016 campaign with the Giants' Triple-A Sacramento club and is slated to begin the 2017 season in Triple-A again. If an injury occurs to one of the team's major league starters, Heston would be a prime candidate to receive an in-season call-up.
Heston gave up six earned runs on seven hits and one walk over 2.1 innings in Tuesday's 8-5 Cactus League loss to the A's. Heston surrendered five doubles among his seven hits and came unraveled in the third, when the A's touched him up for six runs overall. The right-hander is expected to start the season at Triple-A Tacoma and figures to be a prime candidate for a call-up at some point in the regular season when the Mariners are down a man in their rotation.
Heston gave up three earned runs on three hits and three walks over 2.1 innings in Wednesday's 12-7 Cactus League loss to the Dodgers. Heston had come into Wednesday's outing with seven scoreless innings on his spring resume, so his rocky appearance was his first taste of adversity. The 28-year-old gave up home runs to Justin Turner and Trayce Thompson and also handed out his first three free passes of spring in a 61-pitch outing. The struggles don't negate the positive impression Heston made over his first three appearances, but this is as a blemish on his quest to secure a rotation spot as the potential fifth starter.
Heston gave up just two hits over three innings in Friday's 11-10 Cactus League loss to the Cubs. He struck out two and walked none. The right-hander is making an excellent case for the fifth starter role, as he's now fired seven scoreless frames and surrendered just four hits while racking up three strikeouts. Heston has his trademark sinker working again this spring, a key to the success he found in 2015 with the Giants, which included a no-hitter. "That was the thing that was fighting against me [last year]," Hester said. "My sinker was up in the zone. To be able to get that pitch down and get the groundballs early in counts, that's kind of my whole game plan. So to get that back rolling again is kind of nice."
Heston allowed just one hit over two scoreless innings in Sunday's 13-2 Cactus League win over the Padres. Heston is still a long shot to make the big league club coming out of spring training, but outings like Sunday's certainly help boost whatever small chance he may have. Although his more likely destination to kick off the 2017 campaign remains Triple-A Tacoma, the Mariners are expected to give him ample opportunity to state his case for a major league spot this spring.