Heuser Reaching New Heights

Since moving up from Vancouver, the Oakland A's short-season affiliate, James Heuser has been on a tear. Last year, the 6'5'' southpaw finished with a 5-4 record in 12 starting appearances with a 4.13 ERA. That was good enough to promote him to the Low-A Kane County Cougars. Heuser has responded by putting up a 2.85 ERA, the lowest of any starter in the rotation. We profile Heuser inside.

With five victories, James Heuser has already tied his win total from last year and with only two loses thus far, has gained confidence he's hasn't had in the past.

"This is my first full year where I have had a lot of confidence," Heuser said.

"Having some success, you try and build on it and just learn from what you do well and what you do right and try to continue to get better."

Although Heuser's strategy is consistent with the A's organization's strategy - painting the corners and pitching to contact - he has many different ways of getting outs. His pitching arsenal includes five different pitches.

"I throw two different change-ups and two different fastballs to go with my slider," Heuser said.

"My slider has started to come around for me in the past few games and especially my changeup, which wasn't nearly as good earlier in the season."

Because of the variation in which Heuser grips the ball, his fastball has been clocked in a wide range of 83-91 mph. In addition, the speed of his change-ups varies by about four or five miles per hour.

Early in the game, he relies on his fastball as a go-to pitch when he wants to get hitters out. As the game progresses, however, Heuser often goes to his slider, typically striking-out hitters who are way in front of it.

Though he doesn't claim to be a strikeout pitcher, Heuser averages one punch-out per inning of work. Batters haven't fared well against Heuser on the year with a low .206 batting average against. He hasn't lost since May 22nd, winning three straight games. Much of Heuser's success is from his mentality in the first inning, where he looks to attack.

"I try and set a tone in the first inning by striking out one or two guys," Heuser said. "If you can shut the opponents down early, you start getting it in their heads that they may not be able to hit you."

Typically, Heuser attacks at a very fast speed, often being compared to White Sox hurler Mark Buerhle due to how fast he works from the mound.

"I like to work fast, and the most important thing for me is staying tall," Heuser said about his pitching strategy.

"When I don't stay tall me arm drags behind and that's when I start struggling."

Although Heuser has had times were he has struggled this season, for the most part, he has put up tremendous numbers, something he claims every pitcher wants to have. But even if his ERA wasn't the best, he's aware of the most important statistic in the game: wins.

"I just want to put my team in a winning position," Heuser said. "If I can do that a lot than my numbers have to be pretty good."

Recently, because many young pitchers have been experiencing problems with their pitching arms, many organizations including the A's have taken a proactive approach by implementing both an inning pitch count as well as a pitch count for the game. For instance, if Heuser were to throw 55-60 pitches in one inning, he may be pulled at Cougars' manager Aaron Nieckula's discretion. That number jumps up to 100 pitches for an overall game. And with a pitch count, it's hard for any pitcher to make it over seven innings in a game. Yet Heuser, who typically goes at least into the sixth inning, has had one complete game this season. In addition, when he is pulled, he still feels like his arm is good to go.

"You have so much adrenaline so you never want to come out of the game," Heuser said about being pulled due to a "high" pitch count.

"But even though I feel I could keep going, it's a smart move because we're so young that we don't want to be burnt out if we keep moving up."

If Heuser were Superman, which some games he seems to be – in his last start he yielded only one hit in 6.2 innings of work before being pulled for a high pitch count- his kryptonite would be hitter's with a knack for fouling off good pitches. In addition to limiting how long he can throw because of wasted pitches, it strains Heuser mentally.

"I hate batters that continue to foul off pitches," Heuser admits. "I throw strikes and they keep fouling them off but if I throw a ball they take it. It's infuriating."

Perhaps this is why Heuser said he wouldn't want to face teammate Mike Massaro. Massaro, who seldom swings at the first pitch and typically works counts, is the type of batter Heuser hates to face.

"I saw Massaro foul off about 15 pitches in a row the other day, it was ridiculous," Heuser added.

With Heuser's first half success, he will be looking to continue his roll in the second half and, perhaps, continue to move up in the organization. Like Nieckula always says, "it's a game of adjustments." And in that sense, Heuser is one of the better players on the team at making them.

"Every time you move up there's something that's a little bit better than where you were," Heuser said about getting promoted.

"Guys here (Midwest League) take better pitches and swing at better pitches so you need to make those little adjustments."

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