Heaney's strong start is silver lining in 'tough loss' to Astros

July 2nd, 2023

ARLINGTON -- opened Sunday afternoon’s matchup against the Astros with a 14-pitch battle against Jose Altuve. 

Heaney won, striking out Altuve on a slider buried in the dirt and setting the tone for the rest of his incredible outing. 

“That first at-bat, in a weird way, I was kind of happy about it,” Heaney said. “Altuve is a good hitter. We faced each other a decent amount of times now, and he knows what I'm trying to do. I felt all of those pitches were pretty well executed. 

“Obviously he's a tough hitter, so he kept fouling them off. When I got to two strikes, I probably should have buried that slider in the dirt, five or 10 pitches ago. But again, in a weird way, that kind of got me sort of settled into the game just because I sort of felt good with what I was doing.”

Despite the Rangers falling, 5-3, to the Astros Sunday afternoon, Heaney did settle in nicely and put the club in perfect position for a victory. 

The left-hander tossed his best outing in almost two months, putting together five shutout innings, while striking out eight Astros hitters and walking just one. It was his first scoreless start since he also threw five shutout innings in Houston on April 16. 

Heaney didn't return for the sixth inning even though he had thrown just 85 pitches. Manager Bruce Bochy said that was the target area the staff had for him pitch-count wise, and they felt like he did his job exactly as he was supposed to. 

Heaney said he understood the decision, despite always wanting to continue competing. 

“As far as going back out there, near the end of my last two starts, I gave up two homers in Chicago in my last inning and a homer in my last inning of the start against Detroit, so I haven't inspired confidence of late,” Heaney said. “I haven't earned that trust from Boch, and our bullpen has been great. So I understand. I believe in myself. I always want to go out there and take the ball, but I also know that I've got to earn it.”

While the decision to pull Heaney was understandable as the Rangers maintained a one-run lead at the time, things unraveled for Texas afterwards.

Two usually reliable relievers struggled to put away the Astros. Rookie reliever Grant Anderson allowed a game-tying RBI double in the sixth inning, and then in the eighth inning Josh Sborz -- who entered the game with a 0.52 ERA over his last 11 relief outings -- wasn't able to stop the bleeding. He allowed a single and two walks to load the bases before a two-out triple from Chas McCormick cleared the bases. 

“[Sborz], he's been really good, so I can't say anything about him as well as he's been throwing the ball,” Bochy said. “You need a key hit, a clutch hit, and they got it in the eighth. That was the difference in the ballgame. It was a good game. Andrew threw well, overall [the Astros] played well. It just got away from us in the eighth."

The silver lining in a matchup like this is that Heaney looked more like the version of himself that the Rangers have seen flashes of in the first half. The lefty said he worked on making directional and mechanical adjustments that will help him moving forward. 

The biggest thing for Heaney is working on eliminating those homers late in the game. Over his last two starts, he gave up a combined three home runs in his final inning against the White Sox and Tigers. That comes first and foremost with making better two-strike pitches and doing all the little things right. 

“They're little details, but especially late in the game, when maybe your stuff isn't as crisp as it is early in the game, you have to be a little bit more fine with it,” Heaney said. “Those are things that I'm working on, and I feel like today was a step in the right direction. Obviously, it's a tough loss, but personally I feel like I'm getting back to who I was a little bit earlier in the season.”