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OC Register: Here’s how the Angels think Andrew Heaney can have a breakout season


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After another season in which Andrew Heaney flirted with his potential, Joe Maddon thinks the key for the left-hander to unlocking consistency is close.

“The big key for Andrew is to really understand how to utilize his weapons and how to put hitters away,” the Angels manager said. “That’s it. That’s it. It’s probably just game-planning or sequencing or that kind of thing. He has all this ability. He has all the tools in the toolbox. He just needs to know how to parse them out a little better.”

For an Angels team desperate for better starting pitching, it would certainly be a boon if they could turn Heaney into a reliable starter simply by having the catcher put down the right fingers at the right time.

Just before the Angels’ first workout of the spring Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona, Heaney spoke to reporters about what he’d done over the winter to try to unlock that ability.

He said he purchased his own Rapsodo machine, so he could have the same data on his pitches at home in Oklahoma that he has when working out with the team. He started throwing earlier in the winter, allowing for a slower buildup. He even spoke regularly to former Angels pitching coach Doug White.

Heaney, 29, said he’s trying to “have a better understanding of what I do well and what I don’t do as well, how to accentuate what I do well and maybe either stay away from what I don’t do well or how to make it at least serviceable and kind of pick and choose my moments.”

Heaney’s struggles manifested themselves several times during a tumultuous 2020 season.

Over his first three starts, he had a 2.35 ERA. Over his next three, it was 9.00. However, the last of those three starts was a game in Oakland in which Heaney gave up three runs in the first, then suddenly cranked up the percentage of usage of his four-seam fastball and did not allow a run over his next three.

In a Sept. 19 game, Heaney gave up three runs in the first, made an adjustment and then did not allow another run, pitching 6 2/3 innings.

Both of those games suggest Heaney is getting better at diagnosing and correcting issues mid-game.

“There’s definitely some times where I probably get a little bit stubborn,” Heaney said. “When you’ve been in the same league, faced a lot of guys for however many years or however many innings I’ve faced guys, there is not an element of surprise as much anymore. I think that probably some evolution needs to happen with kind of how I approach hitters and the way that I might use my stuff.”

Heaney posted a 3.49 ERA over 18 starts with the Angels in 2015, his first season with the team. In his first full season after Tommy John surgery, Heaney had a 4.15 ERA over 30 starts and 180 innings in 2018. Besides those seasons, though, he’s mostly alternated good and bad stretches, adding up to a 4.44 ERA.

His peripheral statistics, however, suggested an improvement. Last year, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) of 3.79 indicated that he was a better than average pitcher, based simply on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed.

“He’s a really bright young man, introspective, really digs deeply into his craft,” Maddon said. “I think what we’re trying to give him, he will embrace. I’m certain that he will attempt to utilize it, because he’s always searching for knowledge. …

“I have a lot of confidence in him. I really anticipate a very good year from him.”

NOTES

Left-hander Alex Claudio will miss at least a week or two because of a right hip infection, the Angels announced before the first workout. Maddon said they are waiting for more information to determine the length of time the reliever will be out. …

Jaime Barria, Junior Guerra, Jose Quijada and Jose Alberto Rivera will arrive late because of visa issues. Barria, who is out of options, and Guerra, who is a veteran major leaguer, are likely to be a part of the opening-day roster. Rivera is a Rule 5 pick, so the Angels would like to have as much time as possible to evaluate him before deciding whether he’ll make the opening-day roster or be offered back to the Houston Astros.

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Despite the fact that he's almost 30, I think there could be some validity to this. Heaney has only started 89 games, losing almost two years to injury. That's basically just three seasons worth of games sprinkled over seven years, most of them in the last three. So if we look at him like he's a 27 year old coming off his third year, then the breakout potential is there. His peripherals have always been better than his results, at least since coming back from injury a few years ago. I don't think the case is clear if he or Bundy will be better going forward. Furthermore, given his low work load over his career, he could have a delayed decline.

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