By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) –The drama that has surrounded Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward’s season has certainly been tempered by a great team record and a manager who believes in him. At 26, Heyward has had to deal with adversity after signing an enormous $184-million contract with the Cubs last winter.READ MORE: Stimulus Check Update: When Might Your $1,400 Economic Relief Payment Arrive?
That pressure from that signing and a funky swing with many moving parts has led to the worst offensive season for Heyward in his seven-year career. Coming into action Tuesday, Heyward was hitting .236 with six home runs and 36 RBIs in 487 plate appearances. By any standard of play, that’s a bad season for a major league hitter.
After sitting out four games with a mental timeout, Heyward has been on a recent surge and seems to have turned a bit of a corner heading into the last month of the season. Heyward was riding an eight-game hitting streak going into Tuesday’s home game against the Pirates and had reached base in 19 of his last 22 starts.
Cerebral Cubs manager Joe Maddon has had a really firm handle on noting Heyward’s contributions on defense and base-running. This type of reflective verbalization has been of great assistance to Heyward. Maddon has helped point the media toward the positives rather than concentrating on the obvious struggles at the plate.
Granted, Maddon has also had a ton of other offensive weapons to turn to in softening the impact of Heyward’s poor season at the plate.
“His swings have been better,” Maddon said about Heyward’s latest hitting streak. “The timing is better, the contact is harder. He is driving the ball all over the place too. I believe his confidence is growing. I also think he believes he is going to get a hit now. It is difficult to reset in the middle or end of a season. I give Jason credit — I always talk about his emotional intelligence. He is the consummate team player.”READ MORE: COVID-19 In Illinois: 1,182 New Coronavirus Cases, 5 More Deaths; Lowest One-Day Death Toll Since September
Heyward has certainly been the ultimate professional during bad times. He has never dodged the media. Oftentimes, he has talked at length about negatives that other players would have hid from.
Maddon asked Heyward to back off of his intensive hitting regiment in the cage prior to games.
“That is not my world,” Heyward admitted about his incessant hitting routine and backing off. “That is not the first time I have been asked (by coaches) to back off. I guess that is part of it, learning when to back off. There are different circumstances through the season that occur. I have gone into the cage after games and hit for an hour. That is just the nature of the beast. Yes, (Maddon) did ask me to stop swinging so much.”
Baseball has been both rewarding and humbling for Heyward in his first year in Chicago. Asked to help the Cubs in their pursuit of a World Series and handed a huge contract, there have been many struggles.
“(Slumps) can happen to anybody,” he said. “These things remind you to never take anything for granted when they do go well. That is really my mindset on it. Things don’t always go the way you want them to. I am the same person — good game, bad game. I am just trying to help us win. When I can contribute, it’s awesome. I am just trying to be a team player.”MORE NEWS: Park District Spring Program Sign Up Starts Monday
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.