Curve’s Hearn earns All-Star start

Taylor Hearn won the genetics lottery when it comes to being a pitcher. He’s left-handed, throws upwards of 100 mph and is 6-foot-5.

Any one of those physical gifts is extremely valuable in baseball. When a pitcher has all three, he has a chance, if everything goes well, to be a superstar and mega-millionaire.

“It’s definitely a huge blessing,” Hearn said of his God-given talents. “It’s crazy because I have an advantage. I’m a tall guy, and I throw hard and left-handed.

“This is something that I always wanted to do, but I never knew I’d end up throwing this hard.”

Hearn has been very impressive so far this season for the Curve, and tonight he will get the honor of starting the Eastern League All-Star Game at Trenton.

Hearn will be on the hill for the Western Division stars, managed by Altoona’s Michael Ryan, who had an easy choice when it came to his starting pitcher.

“I’m going with my guy,” Ryan said.

“It’s a great honor,” Hearn said of being an All-Star. “I’m very thankful and hope it will be the first of many All-Star Games. I was excited when I got the news.”

Hearn is one of the most intriguing and promising prospects in the Pirates’ system because of his powerful left arm and enormous potential. He’s just 3-5 for the Curve this season but ranks 10th in the EL with a 3.35 ERA, plus he’s at or near the top of the league leaderboard in many categories, including:

n Leads EL with a .195 opponent batting average

n Tied for third with 94 strikeouts

n Leads in strikeouts per nine innings at 9.84

n Tied for second with a 1.09 WHIP

n Second in fewest baserunners per nine innings at 9.95

n Tied for first in complete games (2) and shutouts (1)

Hearn has allowed only 61 hits in 86 innings, so hitters haven’t done much against him at all. He has walked 33, which has gotten him into some trouble, and surprisingly, lefties have hit him better (.211) than righties (.188).

With a fastball that sits comfortably between 95-97 mph, and occasionally higher, plus a developing slider and changeup, Hearn has enough of a repertoire to be a dynamic starting pitcher.

The key for him will be to find a level of consistency and continue to learn the ins and outs of being a good pitcher and not just a thrower.

“I’ve learned a lot being at this level,” the 23-year-old said. “Just being able to throw all three pitches for strikes and being able to throw them in counts when I usually am throwing fastballs. And just being able to attack the hitters and be more aggressive.”

Hitters at Double-A have taught him that he can’t just rely on his fastball, which is pretty much the case with most pitchers at this level.

“It goes back to me being able to throw offspeed for strikes in hitters’ counts — 2-1, 3-1, 2-0,” Hearn said. “That way it will get them off my fastball and be able to mix the fastball in and out. Instead of me just living on the inside part of the plate, I’m able to live on the outside and in.”

The Pirates acquired Hearn as part of a deal that sent closer Mark Melancon to the Nationals at the trade deadline in 2016. The Bucs also got current closer and All-Star Felipe Vazquez in that deal, so it’s already been a win, and if Hearn can reach his tremendous potential, then Pittsburgh will have made out extremely well.

Hearn, a fifth-round draft pick in 2014, said he idolized David Price growing up, and there are a lot of similarities between the two as Price also is a 6-5 lefty who once threw very hard.

“When he was with the Rays he was 97-98, gas it by you and good offspeed, as well,” Hearn said.

As Price, who’s now 32, has gotten older, he’s had to rely less on his fastball and more on other aspects of being a well-rounded pitcher.

“Right now is when I’m learning how to add and subtract on my fastball, being able to throw one at 91-92 and knowing when to use one that’s 96-97 to get it by guys or sometimes to catch them off guard,” Hearn said. “With what I’ve been learning now and then as I get older and play the game more, I’ll be able to use a lot more and add more pitches or whatever it is.”

There have been questions in the past about whether Hearn’s long-term path will be as a starter or reliever, but the way he’s pitched this season for the Curve shows that he certainly can handle starting.

“I know I can relieve, but starting is definitely something I want to do,” he said. “At this level, I’m just trying to show them and everybody that I can do it, because I know it was always a question mark with a lot of people.”

There are no guarantees that Hearn will be a star. But he has every advantage one could want as a pitcher, and when you consider that lefties such as Zach Duke and Oliver Perez have been able to stick around forever, it’s easy to think that Hearn’s stuff will give him a chance to succeed.

Despite having so much potential, Hearn said he doesn’t find him self thinking too much about how good he could be in the future.

“I try not to,” he said. “I try to just stay where my feet are. I definitely want to be up in Pittsburgh soon, or wherever it is. But I’m trying to just pitch where my feet are and not look too far ahead, because if I look too far ahead, then that will get me off track.”