Woodward: Fastball is the key for Taylor Hearn
Nothing is a given for Taylor Hearn after Thursday, other than that he is on schedule to start a game next week somewhere.
It could be in Arlington against the Pittsburgh Pirates, which would be something for the left-hander the Pirates dealt away last summer for Keone Kela, or it could be back with Triple-A Nashville.
To guess would be futile, with a bevy of roster moves and off days ahead for the Texas Rangers and with their pitching staff in disarray.
Yes, even after Hearn’s disastrous MLB debut Thursday.
Second baseman Rougned Odor is supposed to return to the lineup no later than Saturday. Left-hander Drew Smyly, whose injury helped put the Rangers in their current bind, hopes to be back next week. The Rangers have two candidates in addition to Hearn to start Tuesday.
Does anyone really think the Rangers can get through the weekend without needing a fresh arm for the bullpen?
Heck, Hearn could be gone as soon as Friday.
But he’s an official big leaguer now after starting Thursday against the Seattle Mariners, and he will be back at some point this season if the Rangers send him out as part of their impending roster shuffle.
The debut, though, was memorable only because it was so unmemorable, as Hearn retired only one of the eight batters he faced and allowed five runs on three hits and four walks.
“I think it’s a good experience for him,” manager Chris Woodward said before the game. “It’s a great experience to see him, whether it is one start or two starts or however many it is. It’s great for him to get in this environment and go out and compete, and see what he’s got. It’s a measuring stick for him.”
The one out was the second fewest in Rangers history for a player making his MLB debut, as Wilson Alvarez didn’t retire any of the five batters he faced in 1989. An error kept Hearn from a second out and possibly finishing the inning, though 21 of the 39 pitches he threw were balls.
The last time Woodward and many players had seen Hearn was March 24 in Nashville, where he started against the Rangers in an exhibition game to christen the new player development agreement.
The first two Rangers reached against Hearn and an unearned run scored, but he settled in and allowed only one hit, one walk and a hit batsman over the next four innings while striking out seven. Rangers hitters were impressed by the deception he showed with his slider, which had the same arm action as his fastball, and they were blown away by the velocity.
“I remember seeing him in Nashville, and I think that left a big impression of what we want right now and what we need,” said Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who started at catcher Thursday. “He let it be known that he pitched against us and shut us down. It said a lot.
“The velo on the screen was like 92 to 94, and we were all like, ‘It’s got to be harder than that.’ After the game they said it was 98. That’s big-time stuff.”
The key for Hearn is commanding his fastball at the top of the strike zone and throwing his off-speed pitches with a purpose. Woodward and former pitching coach Mike Maddux call it pitching with conviction.
No matter what was to unfold at the perennially chilly T-Mobile Park, the Rangers weren’t too concerned that Hearn would be overwhelmed by the moment. The Kela trade marked the second time Hearn, from Royse City, had been traded since the Washington Nationals used their fifth-round pick on him in 2015.
Maybe Hearn would get roughed up. If so, big deal.
“So what?” Woodward said. “If that ruins his career, then he wasn’t meant for that anyway. It’s OK to go out and get your butt kicked every once in a while. It’s not going to affect his future. I’m not worried about that.”
Though only 24, Hearn is mature beyond his years and experience. Kiner-Falefa called Hearn a professional, even though he had never stepped foot on a big-league mound before Thursday.
He was in big-league spring training, though, and spent the offseason working out with the Rangers at the Urban Youth Academy in West Dallas. He also made appearances on the Rangers Caravan.
The expectation was, no matter what happened, that Hearn would be the same as he was before the call-up.
“He’s an impressive human being,” Woodward said. “Once I got to know him in the offseason, I was really impressed. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, man. He’s a smart kid. He has a mature presence about him.”
Hearn can pitch a little, too.