'I just tried to flip the switch': Heaney finds his rhythm in solid start

April 20th, 2024

ATLANTA -- A million thoughts are going through ’s head with every pitch he’s thrown all throughout the young 2024 season. He’s been fighting himself, both mentally and mechanically, the southpaw has explained.

“I think, right now, it's just the thoughts,” manager Bruce Bochy said ahead of the Rangers’ 8-3 loss to the Braves on Friday. “He does have a lot going on. He really wants to do well, like we all do. So when things are just not going well, yeah, those thoughts creep in there and it's just gonna happen. Kinda like [a] golf swing on the backswing. You get 100 swing thoughts on the way down and that doesn't work.

“It's not uncommon. We end up doing it. Hitters do it, pitchers do it. … You gotta keep it simple.”

Easier said than done.

For Heaney, the first inning of Friday night’s loss to the Braves looked like more of the same. It began with a leadoff walk to Ronald Acuña Jr. and a one-out walk to Austin Riley. Even his outs -- a strikeout of Orlando Arcia and flyout from Matt Olson -- took eight pitches and nine pitches, respectively.

Atlanta quickly erased the lead the Rangers’ acquired thanks to a leadoff homer from after an RBI single from Marcel Ozuna. At the conclusion of the first inning, Heaney threw 35 pitches.

But somehow, things improved from there. Over his final four innings, Heaney retired 12 of the 14 batters he faced, the other two being solo homers from Atlanta catcher Travis d’Arnaud.

“I just needed to reset a little bit mentally,” Heaney said. “I mean, it’s just frustrating. That’s not who I am as a pitcher in that first inning. That’s who I've been lately, I know that has been frustrating for everybody, I'm sure, but I just needed a reset and just a change in mentality. Go right at them.”

Heaney ultimately gave the Rangers a much-needed five innings in the loss. It was far from perfect, but it was his longest outing of the year and it kept Texas in the game well before it got out of hand.

“It's easy to get into rhythm when you get into a rhythm, you know what I mean,” Heaney said. “It's hard to get into a rhythm when you're out of rhythm. Sometimes you have to work yourself into that rhythm. Again, I haven't been doing a very good job of that. I just tried to flip the switch.”

After Heaney gave up d’Arnaud’s second homer, the Rangers fought back to tie it in the top of the sixth inning. But the Braves ultimately blew the game open in the bottom half of the frame when d’Arnaud hit his third homer of the night, a grand slam off rookie reliever .

Despite the rough first inning and the loss, it was a positive step in the right direction for Heaney, who has obviously been struggling to find his footing early this year.

The velocity on all his pitches was ticked up just a bit, he didn’t issue another walk after the first inning and he looked crisper overall after escaping the opening frame. Bochy emphasized that he was pleased with the bounceback, even if it didn’t show in the final score.

“In a weird way, I’m happy to give up solo homers,” Heaney said. “I know that's not the point. I’m trying to keep them off the board, but innings like the first just kill everything. It's terrible for my rhythm, terrible for our hitters' rhythm and terrible for our bullpen when I'm throwing 90 pitches in four innings. … I feel good just attacking guys early in counts. I got some early outs, the slider felt good today.”

Now the challenge for Heaney is to build off those last four innings and not let the first become as habitual as it’s felt over the first month of the season. It’s about getting back to being the pitcher he knows he can be, even if that once again is easier said than done.

“I need to keep hammering that and then just feel that flow, that rhythm,” Heaney said. “I don't know how to explain it other than that. … It's a step in the right direction. I feel good about how the last few innings went. It’s up to me to just keep building on that because it’s not lost, it's not gone forever. I just need to get it going.”