Jason Heyward’s Cubs career has had glimpses of promise only to be tempered by injuries or regression.
So as the right fielder enters his 10th major-league season, he’s simply preparing to put his best foot forward amid plenty of uncertainty.
“I do feel good, but I was talking to Joe (Maddon) this past week, spring training is different,” Heyward said. “It’s a different format as far as your preparation for the game. You practice all these things leading up to the game. It kind of makes the game not as important, as far as paying attention to details.
“Right now I’m just trying to look at pitches, take swings at pitches and react and get a feeling. Once you get in season, it’s all game planning.”
With a sense of urgency permeating the Cubs organization, Heyward could face with several situations this season. Heyward could play more in center field if manager Joe Maddon opts to stack the lineup with as many left-handed hitters as possible against right-handed pitchers.
Heyward, 29, also could find himself sitting against left-handed starters, although he actually hit better against left-handers (.290) than right-handers (.265) last season.
“I still like him on righties,” Maddon said. “But I’m not afraid of him against lefties.”
Maddon likes that Heyward can handle hard-throwing lefties, as evidenced by his .357 lifetime against Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez. Heyward batted .400 (12-for-30) against left-handed relievers in 2018.
But there’s also the matter of health. Heyward missed nearly a month because of finger and hand injuries in 2017. Last year he suffered a concussion while trying to rob Dexter Fowler of a home run on May 6 and missed 11 days. He later missed 17 games with a hamstring injury after trying to make a diving catch against the Braves on Aug. 30.
Heyward indicated he might ask for a rest more often to guard against injury, noting that his hamstring injury came when “I had something else nagging me and it led to that.”
“But communication is going to be big there as well,” Heyward said. “What days do you need rest versus playing? Of course you want to try to win every game because it could come down to the last game. But at the same time I have to do a better job of communicating. I know they might need me to go in, but certain games I’m going to need that real breather.”
The concussion caused Heyward to lose his timing at the plate as he fell into a 4-for-20 when he returned. He eventually rebounded with a 12-for-23 surge that raised his batting average to .271 — one point above his season mark.
The .270 mark represented a 40-point increase from Heyward’s disastrous 2016 season. He’s now being supervised by Anthony Iapoce, his third hitting coach in three seasons. Heyward admitted it’s tough for a new hitting coach to have a full understanding of his preparation, but he likes the dialogue and Iapoce’s willingness to observe and provide feedback.
“He does know the mechanical and technical stuff,” Heyward said.
Iapoce trusts Heyward’s veteran experience as he prepares for the season.
“But you also know it’s a long season,” Iapoce said. “The goal from a coaching standpoint is you like to see the things they decided to work on be put in play.”
Heyward’s focus on the season ahead were reflected by his spring batting average that hovered in the low .100s until Tuesday, when he hit a pair of doubles.
“I’ve been talking to him all along,” Maddon said. “I like his setup. I like the way his hands are working. He looks really good.”