Chris Heisey went 7 for 41 (.171/.227/.439), with two doubles and three home runs in 44 plate appearances as a pinch hitter in 2016.
Overall in his career, Heisey’s now 47 for 183 (.257/.314/.563), with 10 doubles and 14 home runs as a pinch hitter. How does he explain his success in a difficult role?
“It is tough to answer,” Heisey said when he spoke to reporters recently at Winterfest.
“I’ve had pretty good pinch hitting numbers in my career. I couldn’t tell you other than right when I first got called to the majors in back in 2010 I had a lot of success doing it. For what reason, I couldn’t tell you, but I just got confidence in it and I think I realized that no one is really expecting me to do a whole lot, so — because you’re always facing a bullpen — pinch hitting in general, people are like, ‘Oh, that’s such a tough job,’ so you really have no pressure because if you get out people are like, ‘Well, he was sitting on the bench all game,’ ‘It’s not like he was in the flow of the game...’ so I just take that attitude. Go up there and give it my best try, but I’m not putting so much pressure on myself that it ruins my whole season if I don’t get a hit in the pinch hit at bat, so I think that has been helpful to my approach.”
Heisey, 32, went 30 for 139 (.216/.290/.446) with three doubles and nine home runs in 83 games and 155 PAs total this past season.
He signed a minor league contract with the Nationals last winter that paid $1.25M in the majors and he decided to return to Washington, D.C., signing a 1-year/$1.4M free agent deal for 2017 earlier this winter.
“I think first and foremost it just makes a lot of sense for my family,” Heisey explained when asked why he decided to come back.
“With being from around here and back with a good team. Lately I’ve been making a lot of transitions and it was nice to not have to meet a bunch of new people for me and my wife. So the familiarity of it, but being on a really good team I think is important too. I wanted to have a chance to go back to the playoffs and get to the World Series since I’ve never been there, and so figure this was as good a chance as any to do it.”
Heisey made his fourth trip to the postseason this past October, and collected his first postseason hit (in ten at bats), homering in the seventh inning of Game 5 of the Nats’ NLDS matchup with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His blast got the Nationals within one run in what ended up a 4-3 loss.
“The home run was awesome,” Heisey said. “It was my first playoff hit in ten at bats or something like that, so it was nice to get that out of the way and it was nice to get the game a lot closer at that point. But then, yeah, after the game it was horrible.
“It was like — I’ve never seen it so sad in the locker room before. I think we all expected to win and when we didn’t it was tough.
“I know for me, it took me a couple weeks to just stop thinking about it and try to move on and get ready for this year.”
Asked if he and his teammates talked about what went wrong or what was missing from the 2016 Nationals that led to them falling short in the NLDS, Heisey said he’s still not sure.
“I think a couple things go differently that series I think we win,” he said. “That’s the playoffs. I’ve been in playoff series like in 2010 when the Cincinnati Reds team I was on, we won our division and then we went and played the Phillies and got swept in three games and there were a lot of things we needed to get better at, but this series, the series against the Dodgers, I felt like we were the better team. It’s just a five-game series didn’t go our way. We didn’t get the big hit.
“We had so many chances in that Game 5 to break it open and just weren’t able to get it done, so we get a couple hits there and we might end up winning the game by four or five runs and we’re not talking about that series anymore. I don’t know. At the time I couldn’t think of any glaring weaknesses and I still can’t. I just think it’s baseball and we play them again in a five-game series we probably win.”