ALTOONA, Pa. – Luis Heredia was a 16-year-old kid when he signed with the Pirates seven years ago. When I saw him yesterday, he looked tall and slimmer, seemingly in fantastic physical condition, and much more mature. If you would have seen him six weeks ago, the “slimmer” and “fantastic physical condition” part of that description would have not been the case.
When Heredia reported to Spring Training this year, his opening physical revealed that he had hypertension. With his blood pressure over 200, Heredia was immediately put on a strict diet to lose the weight and help correct the condition.
“It’s weird because you feel good outside, but you don’t know what’s going on inside,” Heredia said after his Double-A debut on Friday night in Altoona. “It was my blood pressure. That’s why I changed my diet.”
He worked with a chef while in Bradenton and had to take a photo of every food that he ate and send it to him. The program that the Pirates implemented worked quickly and effectively for Heredia, as he lost 20 pounds in six weeks while at Pirate City.
“It was not easy,” Heredia said. “I had to watch my diet, and now I feel much better. I am looser and have more energy. My skin, my health, everything. . .”
Heredia did say that it was difficult at points over the past month and a half to watch what he was eating, as he would see his friends eating “good stuff”; however, it was a change that he knew he needed to make to be able to succeed. It took until late April, but now he has been granted the opportunity to take another giant step towards his goal of someday reaching the big leagues.
“I will keep fighting and compete every time to get to my goal,” Heredia said.
Altoona Manager Michael Ryan has seen the progression of Heredia through the years, and he says that his “improvements have been outstanding” over past year. One of the biggest differences is him being more aggressive coming out of the bullpen.
“I’ve had him early when he was just a baby, and I’ve had him when he was becoming a man,” Ryan said. “He’s a different pitcher coming out of the bullpen than he was as a starter. He’s got really good stuff, and he’s starting to locate some things. There were times before when he didn’t know where the baseball was going out of his hand. It’s different now.”
Heredia told the Pirates before last year that he felt most comfortable coming out of the bullpen, and he changed his pitch arsenal when making the move to a reliever. Once a four-seam, changeup, and cutter guy as a starter, Heredia is now working heavily with a two-seamer, changeup, and slider, with a four-seam fastball every once in a while when necessary. He learned the two-seamer from fellow Mexican pitcher Manny Delcarmen — who pitched professional for the Red Sox — while playing winter ball.
He made the change to throwing a two-seamer before the Pirates even realized it.
“Last year, when I started throwing the two-seam [for the Pirates], they asked me about it because they saw the ball move. They asked if I was throwing a two-seam, and I said ‘yes’,” Heredia explained about the development of the pitch.
He now feels that a combination of the four and two-seam will help him succeed in the bullpen. And succeeding is something he feels is not a choice, as it is his last year before minor league free agency.
“I got to give everything I have,” Heredia said. “My goal is to finish up [in the majors] no matter where. I need to have a better year this year than last year. I want to attack every players and every hitter.”
Down 20 pounds, with a blood pressure sitting somewhere around 115, Heredia is poised to take the next step. The player they call “Little Baby Face” — who has seemingly been around the Pirates’ organization for what feels like forever — is all of a sudden only two steps away from his goal. Friday night’s 1-2-3 ninth inning was just another step in the right direction.