BALTIMORE -- In 2022, just 5.1% of Andrew Heaney’s pitches were changeups. A member of the Dodgers last season, the lefty mainly relied on the fastball-slider combo to drive his career-best season.
But even then, he wanted to throw more changeups. He came into his first Spring Training with the Rangers aiming to use the pitch more, and hopefully diversifying his arsenal in order to be more effective against hitters on both sides of the plate.
So through 10 starts with Texas, he’s used his changeup 20.7% of the time. In Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Orioles, he used it a whopping 32% of the time as he dealt seven innings of one-run ball to lead the Rangers to a series win at Camden Yards.
“I know I talked a little bit in Spring Training about wanting to use it more and I think it’s just a game plan for these guys that like to stack a lot of righties,” Heaney said. “That's something that a lot of teams have been doing here lately and it’s a good equalizer for my fastball. It does kind of result in a little bit more contact. … It's just been really mixing it more or less based on the game plan. It’s a feel thing, but me and Jonah [Heim] have been on a good page.”
Heaney said the increased usage of the changeup is what allowed him to move so efficiently through the Orioles lineup in the win.
When he faced Baltimore for his first start of the season at Globe Life Field, he threw just eight total changeups -- compared to 30 on Saturday -- as the Orioles knocked him around for seven runs on seven hits and two homers in just 2 2/3 innings of work.
“I threw a lot of changeups trying to take those righties’ aggressiveness away,” Heaney explained. “They've given me a really hard time in the past and I tried to beat a lot of those guys with heaters. They have guys that can get to those heaters at the top of the zone, so just trying to try to take their aggressiveness away and then like I said, a lot of balls went right at guys today. A couple innings early, we had some traffic and got some timely double plays, and I think that just kind of built some momentum into the later innings.”
The seven innings against the Orioles were good for the longest start of the season for Heaney. He opened the game with six shutout frames before allowing a leadoff homer to Austin Hays in the seventh. He He concluded his outing by retiring the final three batters he faced with two lineouts and a groundout.
He didn’t get a lot of swings and misses, registering only five whiffs, but he induced a lot of soft contact or balls hit right at defenders to keep the momentum rolling.
“He is just throwing really quality strikes,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He's got three pitches with the slider and the changeup. He's comfortable with throwing any pitch at any time but he's got good hop on the fastball. And he's aggressive, aggressive in the zone. He's doing a good job getting back into counts or making a good 3-2 pitch. He's just making really nice pitches.”
The win improved the Rangers’ record to 33-18, the club’s best mark through its first 51 games of a season in franchise history (since 1961). With five runs, Texas also improved its MLB-lead of 327.
With Heaney’s fourth consecutive quality start lowering his ERA to 3.76, all five Rangers starters -- six including the injured Jacob deGrom -- have ERAs under 4.00.
“We’re feeling good,” Heaney said. “Obviously we're all rolling, we're all kind of talking about it. It’s really nice to see Jon [Gray] do what he did yesterday. I think the game plans have been awesome. Again, me and Jonah have been on the same page and obviously a day like today, the defense was making plays. And then the offense is scoring runs. I feel like every time I pitch, I’m pitching with a lead and that’s just a really good feeling to go out there and attack. It really is just a team effort.”