Andrew Hearney can make the Texas Rangers playoff contenders if can pitch 150+ innings, continue to average more than 10 strikeouts per 9 innings, and be able to stay healthy throughout the 2023 season.
Andrew Heaney is not the best pitcher the Rangers signed this offseason. Jacob Degrom holds that title. Heaney doesn't have the championship pedigree, that was earned by Nathan Eovaldi. Heaney is the pitcher that will take this rotation from a good rotation to a great rotation.
Similar to Adolis Garcia, Heaney's performance in 2023 will go a long way toward determining if the Rangers will be playoff contenders. Andrew Heaney has had a wide variety of results in his career. He was an up-and-down starter for the Angels and then last season became one of the best strikeout pitchers in baseball for the Dodgers. If Heaney can replicate his success with the Dodgers the Rangers rotation becomes a much more fearsome group of 5 pitchers and maybe one of the best in all of baseball.
For Heaney, the goal needs to be 150 innings or more in 2023. Andrew Heaney comes into 2023 off of a season that saw him miss 3 months due to left shoulder inflammation. He ended up making 16 starts for the Dodgers and was limited to 72 innings in 2022. The Dodgers last season placed Heaney on a pitch count once he came off of the injured list. His high in pitch count in 2022 was 91 pitches in August against the Milwaukee Brewers. He was between 85-91 pitches six times in his 16 starts. Heaney is now several months removed from shoulder inflammation and will not be on any pitch count as we head into the 2023 season. His ability to pitch more innings will be better for him and the team. The argument for a better bullpen in 2023 is that the starters will pitch more innings than in 2022. If Heaney can reach 150 innings that will lead to fewer innings for the bullpen and will hopefully lead to more wins for the Rangers.
The second goal Heaney can reach to help the Rangers become playoff contenders is replicating the high strikeouts per 9 that he averaged in the last two months of the 2022 season. Heaney last season jumped up from striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings in 2021 to striking out 13.6 per nine in 2022. The Dodgers helped him do this last season by converting him from a three-pitch pitcher into mainly a two-pitch pitcher. They changed his arm slot as well and taught him how to throw what they call the "sweeper". It is a slider but it sweeps across the strike zone with more horizontal movement than downward movement. He relied primarily on his four-seam fastball and slider. He mainly was a four-seam fastball pitcher as he threw that pitch 62% of the time compared to 32% for the slider.
He dumped the changeup and curveball and primarily threw just these two pitches. The fastball and slider were almost unhittable. He gave up a .228 batting average against the fastball and incredibly a .170 batting average against the slider. To put this into perspective in 2021 he threw 21 sliders the entire season. In 2022 he threw 398. The American League (AL) saw a different version of Heaney when he pitched for the Angels and Yankees. If he can successfully deploy these two pitches against the AL West lineups it will go a long way toward helping the Rangers be in playoff contention throughout the 2023 season.
The final thing Heaney can do to help make the Rangers a playoff contender is to just stay healthy. Heaney throughout his major league career which spans from 2014-2022 has been on the injured list seven times. In two of those occasions back in 2016 and 2017 Heaney was placed on the 60-day IL with a left flexor muscle strain in 2016 and a left-elbow ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) injury in 2017. Most of his IL assignments have happened early in the season allowing him to come back and pitch late.
The Rangers' priority this spring training has to be making sure he gets to Opening Day healthy. Heaney has been placed on the IL five times either at the end of Spring Training or in the month of April. 2020 did not have a month of April or regular spring training due to the pandemic. 2021 is the only season of his career he made it through spring training and April without needing an IL assignment since 2015. As the Rangers go throughout the month of March how they handle Andrew Heaney will be a story to follow. How many A games does he pitch in, or does he get his work mainly in B games with minor leaguers? The B games are less rigid in structure and rules. Do they want to expose him to other American League West teams? The most important thing will be making sure he can stay healthy. His continued health through the 2023 season will determine if this team can compete with the Astros or Mariners.
Heaney will be the starting pitcher to watch in 2023. Bruce Bochy likely will not reveal where each starter will place in the rotation until we get closer to Opening Day. The one certainty we know is if Jacob Degrom is healthy he will be starting on Opening Day against the Phillies. That is about all we know. Andrew Heaney no matter where he starts the season whether it is in game 2 or game 5 will be a very important piece for this team. If he can pitch more innings in 2023, keep his strikeout rate high, and stay healthy that will go a long way toward determining if the Rangers make the playoffs in 2023 or come up just short.