Texas hopes relief role untaps best in Hearn

Lefty follows opener for second straight outing

July 24th, 2022

OAKLAND -- In 2021, Rangers lefty Taylor Hearn opened the season coming out of the bullpen. It’s not uncommon for a young starter to transition to that role once reaching the big leagues, but it was an understandable adjustment for Hearn.

He would ultimately transition back to being a starter late in the season, after some restructuring in the rotation, where he stayed until midway through 2022.

But now, after a short stint back with Triple-A Round Rock for the first time since 2020, Hearn has returned to the bullpen, albeit in a unique situation.

In the two times Hearn has pitched since getting recalled on July 15, he’s done so behind Matt Bush as the opener. It’s not an official piggyback, but it’s clear that Bush has carved out a role as a one-inning opener, with Hearn coming in as a bulk reliever behind him.

“I'm just trying to set him up for success,” manager Chris Woodward said. “Obviously, [Hearn] misses the top part of the lineup and Bush has been good in this role, he likes it. So it's more strategic. It just kind of gives Hearn a little bit of a better runway to land and we get three, four or five out of him. We just want to set him up for success.”

Maybe that is the best role for Hearn. In the Rangers’ 3-1 loss to the A’s Saturday night, the southpaw tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, one walk and notching three strikeouts.

He was removed from the game at exactly 60 pitches after allowing a double and a single to lead off the fifth inning. He got a flyout before being replaced by Dennis Santana. Hearn admitted he wanted to finish the inning out, but was glad Santana got a double play to end the frame.

“He was good,” Woodward said of Hearn. “I told him afterwards he did exactly what we needed him to do. I thought Taylor did a great job. Like I said, he did exactly what he needed to do, pounded the zone and dominated for the innings he was out there. He ran into a little trouble obviously, but even in that inning, he made some quality pitches.”

“Empty the tank” is a phrase Woodward consistently uses when referencing Hearn’s abilities on the mound. If that’s only 60 pitches, then so be it, but Woodward and the pitching coaches want to maximize his stuff to the best ability regardless of the role he’s in.

“We just want to see him go out and not leave anything in the tank from pitch one,” Woodward said. “Just let it go, whatever that looks like. Just give us everything, instead of trying to fit a mold, trying to go six or seven innings or 90 to 100 pitches or whatever. Just give us everything.”

“I don't know, I've never thought about it like that,” Hearn added. “When I'm out there pitching, I've always been just trying to just let it eat. Whatever I’ve got that day, I'll roll with it.”

For now, Hearn's sweet spot seems to be in that 60-pitch range, where the velocity stays in the upper 90s and the slider still has the same break to it.

If that continues to be in a long relief role behind Bush or he returns to starting has yet to be seen, but Woodward is content to keep him shortened up to full maximization.

“With Taylor, what we've identified a lot of times is that in those shorter stints, he's really nasty,” Woodward said. “And if we found these things, why are we trying to keep pushing? Eventually, maybe he just gets more maturity, or endurance, whatever it is that allows him to go 80 to 90 pitches, I don't know. But right now, it is just that Taylor’s always performed better when it's just like 100% from pitch one. Go for 50 to 60 and see where we're at. That's what we kind of want to see.”