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.”