Cubs

Cubs breathe a sigh of relief with Jason Heyward news

Cubs breathe a sigh of relief with Jason Heyward news

SAN FRANCISCO – Jason Heyward watched the replay of his dazzling catch and understood what had been at stake, appreciating that he somehow avoided the worst-case scenarios after crashing headfirst into AT&T Park’s right-center field wall on Friday night.  

The Cubs described Heyward’s injury as only a contusion on his right side in the rib area after Saturday’s MRI didn’t reveal any major structural damage. The Cubs are on a three-to-five-days timeline of rest for Heyward and believe this won’t force him onto the disabled list.  

“I’m lucky,” Heyward said. “Very, very lucky. Like I said, God looked out for me on that one. Just really fortunate that I was able to get up and walk off the field.” 

With Heyward sidelined, the Cubs activated outfielder Matt Szczur from the disabled list, designated reliever Neil Ramirez for assignment and started Ben Zobrist in right field against the San Francisco Giants. 

The Cubs breathed a sigh of relief, thinking they will only have to rotate players for a few days in right field and not find a long-term replacement for a three-time Gold Glove winner in the first season of an eight-year, $184 million contract.

“Very encouraging,” manager Joe Maddon said. “When something like that happens, you just got to wait to hear the word. All I know is it’s a great play. 

“It was an extreme angle that he had to run off. From the distance he covered, the angle that he created, extending his body, everything, it’s just an incredible play.”

How many defenders would have the instincts, athleticism, presence of mind and desire to make that play? 

Heyward tracked down Jake Arrieta’s third pitch in the right-center field gap, his momentum driving his left shoulder into the wall and taking away what might have been an inside-the-park home run for San Francisco leadoff guy Denard Span. It helped set the tone for an 8-1 victory over the first-place Giants.

“That’s up there,” Heyward said, in terms of ranking catches in a career defined by defensive excellence. “That’s one of my favorites in my life, for sure.

“I know that was the first play of the bottom of the first, but we’re playing here in San Francisco with these fans, this crowd, two good teams going at it. That can be a big momentum swing if that ball gets down.”

The Cubs can afford to be patient with Heyward’s offensive game (one homer, .611 OPS) because he helps the team win in so many different ways. Losing Heyward for an extended period of time would have left a huge hole in the roster after Kyle Schwarber wrecked his left knee during an outfield collision in early April. 

“I listen to my body, always, regardless of what the doctor’s telling me,” Heyward said. “I got to be smart, because it is May. We’re not in September right now. We’re working towards that, but this is not the time to push anything like that, especially when you got obliques and stuff like that involved.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”