Fast friends: Richards, Heaney build hometown bond

Angels starters spend winter training together in Oklahoma City

February 29th, 2016

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Andrew Heaney learned that Garrett Richards likes to bowl and is really into cinema. "A movie genius" is what he called him. Richards found Heaney to be "very much like an old soul," specifically when it comes to "doing the right thing and being accountable."

The two starting pitchers and former first-round picks were strangers in the Angels' clubhouse at this time last year, until realizing that they live 20 minutes apart in Oklahoma City and that it would be senseless to do anything but spend an entire winter training together, learning from each other.

So, they did.

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Five days out of every week in November, December and January, Richards and Heaney trained for about three hours, working out at a nearby EXOS facility and eventually throwing bullpen sessions at Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond.

Richards, a 27-year-old right-hander out of the University of Oklahoma, is looking to solidify himself as the de facto ace of this staff. Heaney, a 24-year-old lefty out of Oklahoma State University, is hopeful of building off an impressive rookie season.

Together, they very much represent the future -- and in many ways the present -- of this Angels rotation.

"It's just weird how it worked out," Heaney said. "We probably have maybe four or five big league guys in the Oklahoma City area. For us to both be starting pitchers on the same team is kind of cool, pretty rare."

Richards' first season removed from major knee surgery can't be billed as anything other than a success. He won 15 games, posted a 3.65 ERA, compiled 207 1/3 innings and never had a setback. But he didn't match the eye-popping numbers of his injury-shortened 2014 season -- 2.61 ERA, 1.04 WHIP -- and his peripherals shot up.

Richards saw diminished ratios in strikeouts per nine (8.8 to 7.6), walks per nine (2.7 to 3.3) and homers per nine (0.3 to 0.9).

It was perfectly understandable for a guy who spent an entire winter recovering from a ruptured left patellar tendon, an injury that occurred while covering first base at Fenway Park on Aug. 20, 2014. Now, Richards said, "I feel normal again."

"Now that I've had a whole offseason where I've been able to lift heavy and been able to do my normal stuff, everything feels better," he said. "I feel like I'm in a good position right now."

Richards added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, all of it noticeable around his chest. He may be the Angels' Opening Day starter this year. And even if that nominal title once again falls on Jered Weaver -- a man who has started on Day 1 seven of the last eight years -- Richards will probably still be the guy the Angels want on the mound when it matters most.

Richards and Heaney talked about that this offseason.

"I don't think he's hugely focused on what his title is, what his role is," Heaney said. "I think he knows that if he goes out and pitches well, we don't have to call him our ace or not call him our ace. But when it comes to him pitching Game 162 like last year, probably starting Opening Day this year, who knows, I think he knows what that means. I don't think he needs to proclaim himself or anything like that. I think he knows what's expected of him, what he expects out of himself."

Heaney, acquired for veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick in December 2014, struggled mightily in his Spring Training audition 12 months ago but showed a lot of promise after coming up to the Major Leagues in late June.

The young southpaw got his delivery more in line toward home plate, rather than drifting toward the first-base side upon firing a pitch, and finished with a 3.49 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP and a 2.79 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 105 2/3 innings.

Heaney's focus now is on stretching that success out over the course of a full season.

Richards believes he's "only going to get better."

"He's kind of coming into his own right now," Richards said. "I think he's set up for a great year this year. He's got good stuff, he's got a good understanding of what works for him, he's got great command of his fastball. The only thing that's going to come as time goes is just learning how to pitch -- how to set up guys, what to look for, stuff like that. As far as confidence and the stuff that you usually question with a young pitcher, I think Andrew is poised and he's mature enough to handle the job."