One of the major challenges for pitchers this season is the jump in innings, as they’ll go from pitching in a 60-game season last year to a full 162-game slate this year.
Angels left-hander Andrew Heaney is well aware of that and prepared himself this offseason to get ready for an increase in workload. He made 12 starts last year, throwing 66 2/3 innings with a 4.46 ERA and 70 strikeouts compared to 19 walks. But he's had experience with building innings back up -- he was injured in 2017 and threw just 21 2/3 innings, only to bounce back in '18 with 30 starts and a career-high 180 innings.
"I took a little less time off from throwing than normal,” Heaney said via Zoom on Wednesday. “Maybe two to three weeks. Two weeks off from lifting and then kind of got going again. It made for a little bit more of a slower escalation for throwing, but I think it's a good thing. I feel really good. So, I'm glad."
Heaney, 29, made another change this offseason, purchasing his own Rapsodo pitching device and a slow-motion camera to better track his throwing sessions. It allowed Heaney to measure things such as his spin rate on certain pitches, while also using the slow-motion camera to analyze his grips and how the ball was coming out of his hand.
Heaney consulted with former Angels pitching coach Doug White to get a better feel for the data he was receiving, as Heaney did most of his throwing on his own at his offseason home in Oklahoma.
"For the most part, I was kind of on my own, and so I felt like I needed a little bit more of that feedback," Heaney said. "I wasn't specifically working on any single pitch. I think I just wanted to get a better understanding of what I do, how I can be better with it. You know, what little changes I can make here and there."
Angels manager Joe Maddon believes those little changes can be something as simple as changing Heaney’s pitch mix to get better results. Heaney has above-average strikeout and walk rates, but he has had trouble limiting hard contact in recent seasons. He's struck out 188 batters and walked just 49 in 162 innings over the last two seasons, but he has also posted a 4.72 ERA that's slightly above the league average.
"He's got great talent," Maddon said. "He's got such a quick arm and gets that carry to the baseball. The big thing for Andrew, for me, is to really understand how to utilize his weapons and how to put them away. That's it. It's probably a game planning or sequencing, because he has all this ability. He has all the tools in the toolbox, but he just has to parcel them out better."
Heaney, set to be a free agent after the season, is buying in to changing his methods on the mound -- especially since this is his seventh season with the Angels, and the clubs in the American League West are very familiar with him and his arsenal.
"I think that there is an element of my game that I am a little bit stubborn," Heaney said. "I know I have a good fastball. I like to throw my four-seam, I like to move it in and out, like to try and get it in on guys' hands. Maybe our new front office will bring in some new information to help us. But I've been stubborn, and I've been in the same league -- and let's face it, there's not an element of surprise any more. So I think an evolution needs to happen with how I approach hitters and the way I use my stuff."