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Heat v Bandits ABL preview

The signing of South African starting pitcher Dylan Unsworth has been a masterstroke by the Perth Heat and he'll look to continue his hot form this Friday night against the defending ABL champion Brisbane Bandits.

The Heat are back home at Harley-Davidson Ballpark this week to host the Bandits looking for a measure of revenge for last year's championship series, while also trying to return to top of the standings this season in the southwest conference.

This weekend's series against the Bandits begins on Friday night from 7pm before a double-header on Saturday with the first game at 4pm and the second at 7pm. The series then wraps up on Sunday afternoon back at Harley-Davidson Ballpark at 4pm.

The Heat finished 2019 with an impressive 3-1 series victory on the road against the Sydney Blue Sox which improves them to a 15-9 record on the season to remain just one game behind the Adelaide Giants who are 16-8 in first place in the southwest conference.

That means there's plenty on the line this weekend against the Bandits with the Heat also hungry for a measure of revenge for last year's championship series which saw Brisbane claim a fourth successive title.

Pitching has been the great strength of the Heat so far this season and they are leading the ABL with an ERA as a team of 2.92 and average of .231 while conceding league lows in home runs (seven), earned runs (65) and the most strikeouts (218).

Obviously he hasn’t done it all on his own, but South African star Unsworth has pitched in each of the Game 1 match ups so far for the Heat and his recruitment has proved significant in their push for holding the best record in the ABL.

Unsworth's numbers are just phenomenal over the opening six matches down under and he holds a 4-1 record in those appearances. Along the way, he has accumulated a phenomenal ERA of 2.14 while delivering 43 strikeouts while only conceding 29 hits and one home run for 13 total runs.

He has pitched 42 innings in total over those six games and even has a complete game to his credit, and it's fair to say his decision to leave Venezuela to come and play with the Heat is working out quite nicely for the 27-year-old as he continues to strive to earn a Major League Baseball chance.

The Durban native who now calls Cape Town home and spent nine years signed to the Seattle Mariners before spending 2018 signed to the Los Angeles Angels is showing that he deserves another chance at a high level in the United States in 2020.

What shape that takes will take care of itself in the coming weeks, but what Unsworth is focusing on is continuing to make the most of the rich vein of form he's currently in with the Heat.

"Well I've been pitching for the last 10 years so I've been doing it for a while and you have to take the good with the bad, and the bad with the good – you know it's baseball," Unsworth said.

"Right now I feel like I'm in a good place and the coaching staff, especially Tyler the pitching coach who brought me over here and believed me, believing in you and for them to say that Game 1 is mine is huge for me.

"They just want me to go out and give everything and over the last 10 or 11 years, that's what I do well – I compete. I give up five runs, I give up five runs but I'm still going to compete and maybe go another six, seven scoreless innings after that.

"Right now everything is working whether it's my change up, curve ball, sinker, fast ball. It's all coming out nicely and I'm feeling good but it's baseball and you have to take the good with the bad and you have to keep rolling with it."

Unsworth had every reason to think he was closing in on a Major League Baseball debut back in 2018 based on the form he was displaying to rack up a 6-1 record with the Salt Lake Bees, the Triple A affiliate club of the LA Angels.

But surprisingly he was left without a contract in 2019 and found himself playing with Caceres in Venezuela when the Perth Heat came calling and wanted him to be a key part of their bullpen for the 2019 ABL season.

From the moment Unsworth got that call from the Heat, he loved everything about what he heard and it's proven one of the best decisions he's ever made to come down under.

"When Tyler and Brooke heard about me and wanted to bring me over here, Tyler told me that Perth have revamped the stadium and they want to win the championship. That was a team I wanted to be part of," Unsworth said.

"I've won a championship in AA in Jackson, Tennessee with the Mariners and I know that feeling so to win the championship is obviously a great experience. I'm very competitive and I have that never-ending energy where I want to keep going no matter how many times I get knocked down.

"I feel like this team is one where we're not going to stop. There might be a couple of bad games but the next day comes out and we're ready to play ball. I feel like everybody's on the same path and just ready to roll with it."

Unsworth was feeling great about his MLB prospects with the way he was pitching to close the 2018 season, but in baseball it's all about being in the right place at the right time.

It didn’t happen for him then or in 2019, but at 27 he has time on his side and with the way Unsworth is catching the attention of everyone watching him down under, he hopes it leads to greater opportunities for him moving forward.

But no matter what happens, he'll forever grateful to the Heat for the chance they've provided him.

"I was in AAA in 2018 and had a 6-1 record so I was very close to getting a call up. After spending nine years with the Mariners, I signed with the Angels as a free agent and I got very close, but things happen in baseball and nothing come of it for me in the end," Unsworth said.

"I did originally sign to play in Venezuela when Tyler called me up and told me he really believed in me and he knew my potential, and he wanted me to come to Perth and settle in. He said he knew I'd dominate the league and he wanted me to just trust him that it would be the best thing for my career.

"Now here I am competing as hard as I can and seeing where that takes me. Hopefully after the ABL something comes up and some team believes in me to sign me again. I'll see where it takes me from there but I'm 27 so I am in my prime and at my peak right now so I'm obviously not giving up.

"I'm here to help the Heat win a championship but after that my goal is the next step which is to try and get back into minor league baseball to try and get back to the big league."

Unsworth remains a proud member of the South African national team as well but he couldn’t have been more impressed with how far ahead Australian baseball is compared to back home, and he's loving being part of the ABL.

"The baseball is definitely way levels up here from in South Africa too where we don’t have a professional league," he said.

"The league that's under ABL and the Australian guys that play there, we might have three or four South African teams that might compete in that but other than that there's a lot more depth here and we struggle with that in South Africa at the moment.

"It's definitely a lot stronger here and compared to America, there are guys out here who have played in the league and are AA and AAA league players so it's pretty similar.

"There are a lot of young kids just willing to swing the bat so you kind of have to adjust your approach a little bit sometimes and work backwards rather than just throwing heaters all the time because these kids are ready to hit from the first inning.

"I'm just working with Tyler and the coaching staff who always have great scouting reports for us and that really helps you going into every game knowing what to expect from the batters."

Unsworth is loving everything about the Perth lifestyle as well and given he's spent much of his life near the coast in Cape Town, he's attracted to the water in this part of the world too and the fishing has already caught his eye especially.

"I'm originally from Durban but I've been in Cape Town for the last 15 years and I feel like Perth is so much like back home," Unsworth said.

"It's beautiful, the beaches are beautiful and the rivers are great to fish in. I've been doing a lot of fishing and that's great to take your mind of baseball sometimes.

"Even the food and everything is pretty much the same so I'm just having a good time here relaxing and taking my mind off baseball with things like fishing. It's not much of a difference from Cape Town in a lot of ways and Perth is a beautiful city, and I'm loving my time here."



Perth Heat v Brisbane Bandits – Harley-Davidson Ballpark, 7pm


Perth Heat v Brisbane Bandits – Harley-Davidson Ballpark, 4pm

Perth Heat v Brisbane Bandits – Harley-Davidson Ballpark, 7pm


Perth Heat v Brisbane Bandits – Harley-Davidson Ballpark, 4pm

Written by Chris Pike.

IMAGE: Supplied.


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