2005-05-27 / Sports

With Options Running Out, Heilman Delivers in 2005

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist


FLUSHING, NY - The New York Mets have had a few big surprises this season. But none are as big as the performance of right-hander Aaron Heilman.

The 26 year-old came into spring training this year as an afterthought. He was considered a failed prospect and would never amount to much in the Majors.

Then pitching coach Rick Peterson changed Heilman’s arm motion to back where it was when he was drafted 18th overall in the 2001 Draft.

“It feels like a good adjustment,” Heilman, who is now throwing at a three-quarter delivery instead of over the top, said. “It made me a lot more comfortable and fluid and I am not struggling to get into a good position.”

The results are staggering. After being knocked around in the Majors during 2003 and 2004, Heilman is 3-3 with a 4.30 ERA. He is more focused and seems better prepared on the mound.

“That’s because I don’t feel like it’s a change, since I used to do it,” he said. “Once we got back down to where I should be, everything progressed very quickly with my delivery.”

And that included a one-hitter against the Florida Marlins back on April 15th. Heilman went the distance in that game and if not for a freak play by him in the fifth, he could have given up no hits that night.

“It’s fun when you are able to get locked in and you are throwing the ball the way you are able to and get ahead of hitters,” he said. “I don’t want to second guess myself on that play, since the one-hitter changes and you don’t know.”

One thing Heilman has this season is focus. Because of his more natural motion, he can get more comfortable and go after batters. He has a certain “meanness” on the mound that hasn’t been seen out of the right-hander before this season.

“I had too many thoughts, over the past two years, about my mechanics and my delivery, that I did not have enough time to think about being aggressive and going after the hitter,” he said. “I was focusing where I was to make a pitch. Now that comes more natural and I focusing on getting the hitter out and throwing strikes.”

That’s the type of pitcher that the Mets expected when they plucked him in the first round of the 2001 Draft. A standout at Notre Dame, Heilman was 15-0 with a 1.74 ERA his senior year. And not only was he a great athlete for the Irish, he excelled academically and graduated with a degree in philosophy and one in management information systems.

“It was a tremendous experience,” Heilman said of his Alma matter. “I was very fortunate to attend and graduate. It had a great baseball program there and we had a lot of support from the whole university. I had the chance to get a great education.”

His ability to learn will now come in handy now that the Mets are using him out of the bullpen with Kaz Ishii and Kris Benson healthy. It’s something Heilman needs to get used to.

“It certainly is a different mentality,” he said. “I am trying to adjust from having four days of rest and getting my body ready to perform again. Now I will have less time to get ready and mentally, I have to think I will have to pitch every day. It can be more challenging mentally.”

But he is doing it for the best interests on the team. With the Mets improved this season, Heilman is just trying fit in with the logjam in the rotation.

“I try to make the best of the opportunity and that’s the main goal,” Heilman said. “I hope I can pitch well and help my team win.”

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