PHOENIX -- Taylor Hearn, like many Rangers players, frequently talks with mental skills coach Mike Franco.
Hearn’s conversations are a little different than the normal ones, though.
“You really want to know?” Hearn said when asked by reporters what Franco has done to help his development this season. “We’ve just been talking basketball.
“Me and Mike have this thing where I’m a pretty big quote guy. So probably once a day, once every other day, we give each other types of quotes and everything. That type of stuff helps you out mentally. I never really try to get too far ahead and try to think too much. But honestly, that's what we talk about. Just like Mavericks basketball, then giving each other quotes, keeping it loose and relaxed.”
Whatever Hearn’s been doing on the mental side, it’s been working on the physical side.
The 6-foot-6 left-hander has been one of the Rangers' best pitchers in the second half, posting a 3.00 ERA in 10 games (six starts) after the All-Star break. He's struck out 34 and walked 11 in 42 innings over that span.
“Taylor is probably one of our biggest bright points in the year,” Texas manager Chris Woodward said. “Just everything that he's done, coming into the year not being a starter but pitching really well. Just the composure I talked about a lot, his demeanor out there. He feels like he belongs. He’s confident, and he's throwing the ball with a ton of conviction.”
Hearn entered the season in a middle-relief role for the Rangers, but he got multiple spot starts shortly after the All-Star break. When ace Kyle Gibson was sent to Philadelphia at the Trade Deadline, Hearn got a more official audition for the rotation.
Hearn passed the test and has become the type of starter that many in the Rangers' organization felt he could be. Part of that recent -- and hopefully, sustainable -- success is because of the weapons at his disposal.
Hearn typically throws four pitches: a four-seam fastball, a sinker, a slider and a changeup. The slider got a recent makeover.
Co-pitching coach Brendan Sagara worked with Hearn to tweak the grip on his slider to create a certain shape and get a different type of movement out of the hand. Hearn first threw his new slider in an Aug. 29 win over the Astros, and he has all but replaced the original slider at this point.
“It's been really good for him,” co-pitching coach Doug Mathis said. “It's really consistent, the movement is really good and it's got more depth than he's ever had. He’s still got the horizontal, but it's got way more depth to it and it's consistent. His old slider was probably too much of a cutter and inconsistent with the shape of it. That's a lot of credit to [Sagara] to see it and have that in his back pocket for Taylor.”
Woodward noted that at the start of the season, Hearn’s profile seemed like that of a long-relief guy, at the least. And even though he was a starter throughout his entire Minor League career, the staff was still waiting to see how that would play out at the big league level.
The adjustments Hearn has made -- not just to his slider, but to his entire arsenal -- have given him plenty of weapons to work with in the Majors.
“I think he's able to execute those weapons, left- or right-[handed batter],” Woodward said. “He's got a ton of confidence and conviction when he's throwing the baseball. As of right now, he's just got plenty of weapons to be a starter.”
Mathis added that he’s not surprised by Hearn's recent success, based on the combination of talent and preparation he’s displayed all season.
“I’m not, and I know Sagara isn’t either,” Mathis said. “You can see it in glimpses easily, even last year and early in the year at times out of the bullpen. Like when he's good, he dominates. I think he's showing that not only can he go out there and overpower guys, but he has pitchability, too.
“I think it was just the process of him finally getting up to his potential. I think he's going to get better and better, too. He's not anywhere close to where he can be.”