GLENDALE, Ariz. — Right-hander Codi Heuer was so good as a high-leverage bullpen option during his rookie season in 2020 that “potential closer” often was heard before and after his name.
The $54 million signing of Liam Hendriks, baseball’s Reliever of the Year in 2020, put an end to all that and protected the White Sox’ late-inning bullpen depth with Heuer entrenched in the thick of it. And after posting a 1.52 ERA with 25 strikeouts over 23⅔ innings covering 21 appearances last season, the tall 24-year-old with 97-98 mph velocity is looking every bit the same performer at spring training. In four outings, Heuer hasn’t allowed a run, has given up three hits and no walks and has struck out seven batters over five innings.
Heuer looked ready for the season to begin in his last outing Sunday. It was only a spring-training game, but he might have been even more amped up when he struck out four Athletics in two innings. In October, Heuer allowed a two-run homer to Sean Murphy in the A’s 6-4 win in Game 3 of the Wild Card series that ended the Sox’ season.
The outcome was bad, the experience worthwhile. The motivation notable.
“Anytime you can get experience, especially in tough situations in the postseason, it’s a good thing,” Heuer said. “And I’m going to keep that chip on my shoulder, just because that season didn’t end how we wanted it and my last outing didn’t go the way I wanted it. You kind of carry that chip throughout the offseason and into this spring, so it’s been good.
“I’m very focused on what I need to do and try to get back to that point, back in the postseason and back into those situations.”
Manager Tony La Russa is getting his first up-close looks at Heuer, and he likes what he sees.
“The ball jumps out of his hand, he has great action,” La Russa said.
“For a young guy he’s not afraid, and he has a very strong, competitive cool, which is a wonderful trait in the bullpen, especially when you’ve got an arm like he has.”
La Russa had seen it on video and while watching the Sox on TV last season, “but seeing this talent in person is fun. It’s real.”
Heuer held opponents to a .145 average last season, with left-handers going 6-for-46 (.130) against him and righties 6-for-37 (.162), so La Russa should feel comfortable using him in almost any situation. His ERA ranked sixth in the American League, and the average against ranked seventh.
Heuer has the distinction of being the only major-leaguer born in Montana. Drafted by the Sox in the sixth round out of Wichita State in 2018, he became the 24th player born in Montana to make a major-league roster.
“I just have a lot of pride in where I come from,” Heuer said. “I just want to show guys growing up that it’s possible. You can come from many different walks of life and achieve your goals, play in the big leagues or do whatever you want to do. So that’s cool, to hopefully be a role model for some guys growing up in Montana.
“Being the only active one, as of right now, I definitely take some pride in that. It’s a pretty cool thing.”