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Rangers EXCLUSIVE: Taylor Hearn Seeks Starting Role

After a successful debut in the Texas Rangers bullpen, Taylor Hearn tells us he has his eyes set on landing a starting role in 2021.

After a season that was unlike any other, the 2021 Major League Baseball season will bring back some semblance of normalcy. No, ballparks won’t be sold out on Opening Day, or maybe not at all this season. However, a full slate of 162 games is on deck and players couldn’t be happier.

Taylor Hearn is one player in particular who is ready to get things going in Texas Rangers camp. After a forgettable MLB debut in 2019, Hearn bounced back in 2020 as a solid left-handed option out of the Texas bullpen. Last season, he posted a 3.63 ERA in 17 1/3 innings with 23 strikeouts (11.9 strikeouts-per-nine) and 11 walks.

It’s a different mentality for Hearn heading into camp this year. No longer is it about moving past that dreadful debut in Seattle, but it’s about building off of a successful return to the mound. Now with tangible results to study, he’s worked to clean up his already-fluid arm action in his delivery this offseason and has continued to work on his slider. Ultimately, some return to normalcy may help Hearn more than any offseason work in the bullpen.

READ MORE: "It Means A Lot" Rangers' Taylor Hearn Makes a Triumphant Return to Seattle

“I think one of the things I'm really looking forward to now is the 162-game season,” Hearn told Inside The Rangers. [For this year], it’s just to build off that consistency. I really felt like the last three or four weeks of the season, I really started hitting my stride and started getting more comfortable and everything with it, which is pretty normal for me. Even with starting, usually it takes me four or five starts.”

Starting is something Hearn has always wanted to do. He and the Rangers’ coaching staff have had conversations about coming into camp this year to compete for a starting spot. Even last season, Rangers manager Chris Woodward praised Hearn for his versatility and urged for consistency. As spring training begins this week, that search for more consistency is already underway and will be stressed to the younger players in camp.

“What we’re trying to see is development,” Woodward said in last week’s Zoom call with the media. “We want to see growth. We want to see maturity. We want to see these guys be able to handle certain situations. It ultimately comes down to consistently executing.”

The Rangers want to take advantage of Hearn’s versatility again this season, but there is plenty of competition with the additions the front office made this winter. Joining incumbents Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles is Dane Dunning, the centerpiece in the trade that sent Lance Lynn to the White Sox. They also raised eyebrows around the industry when they signed Japanese starter Kohei Arihara, who will certainly log a considerable amount of innings. 

Recently, the Rangers brought in Mike Foltynewicz, who was an all star with the Atlanta Braves in 2018. They've also added Korean right-hander Hyeon-Jong Yang and former Oakland A's product Jharel Cotton on minor league deals with invites to spring training. Add in Kyle Cody, who had a very impressive debut with the Rangers in 2020 as a starter, and there are more arms than slots in the rotation, not including Hearn.

Of course, no team is lucky enough to only need five starters all season. Injuries are a frequent occurrence during baseball’s six-month marathon. In addition, the Rangers plan to limit the number of innings Dunning and Cody log in 2021. Both hurlers are coming off Tommy John surgeries prior to 2020, then were limited last year due to the shortened MLB season and cancelation of the minor league season.

READ MORE: Rangers Dealing With 4 Injuries at Spring Training

Having Hearn stretched out to start is a shrewd move by the Rangers. He is a legitimate starting option and has been ever since the Rangers acquired him in 2018 when they traded Keone Kela to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Rangers have plenty of competition in camp, but they need guys to log innings in 2021. To do so, they may have to get a little creative.

“The only thing they've been telling me is they want me to start and come back and try to win a job starting-wise,” Hearn said. “I’m always open to whatever because I know we're in a situation where there's a lot of spots open. And if the guys they signed end up making the rotation, I’ll do whatever they need me to do.”

Through conversations with Chris Woodward toward the end of last season, he expressed that Hearn needs to rely on his three-pitch mix in order to take the ball once every five days. In 2020, Hearn heavily relied on his mid-to-upper-90’s four-seam fastball and his mid-80’s slider, yet only threw his changeup 11.4 percent of the time. MLB’s Baseball Savant also recorded Hearn throwing one sinker in 2020.

“No, that was a four-seam,” Hearn laughed. “I know which one you’re talking about. I still remember it.” 

(watch at the 0:18 mark in the video below)

The lack of changeup usage isn’t because of Hearn’s inability to throw it. Rather, he believes his changeup could be his best pitch. As Hearn has worked with new pitching coaches Brendan Sagara and Doug Mathis, they agree the changeup can be a good pitch for him in 2021.

“I basically just told them, ‘Hey, I just need to throw it more’ and they agreed,” Hearn said. “There were situations in the bullpen that I didn't really need it as much because my mentality out of the bullpen was not trying to set guys up. It was more just coming at them with what was working that day.”

With pitchers and catchers already in camp, it’s officially open season for several spots on the Opening Day roster. The rebuilding Rangers need answers with a lot of their younger talent in 2021, and pushing young pitchers like Hearn breeds competition in camp.

“It’s exciting, but it’s also going to be a lot of work,” Woodward said. “There’s obviously going to be some bumps in the road with a young group, but we’ve gotta support them through it and continue to develop them.”

CONTINUE READING: Rangers Vow: Opponents ‘Will Know What We Stand For’

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