MILWAUKEE – Jason Heyward doesn’t look at WAR or Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Ratings or really any of the metrics that have graded him out as one of the most valuable players in baseball.
Heyward doesn’t study spray charts and then decide where he should be positioned in right field. He doesn’t watch video to pick up tendencies and visualize game situations.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Heyward said. “I’m going out there playing the game of baseball the way I always have. Defense is something (where) you pay attention to the game, pay attention to who’s hitting, who’s pitching, things like that. I have a feel for what I need to do and what I can control. After that, just let the game happen.”
It’s all about instincts, accumulated experience, thinking on your feet and anticipating the next big moment for the three-time Gold Glove winner. It’s not about compartmentalizing the game and using defense to help you get through an offensive drought in the first season of an eight-year, $184 million megadeal.
It took 34 games and 153 plate appearances, but Heyward finally got his first home run in a Cubs uniform during the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. Maybe now everything will click into place for a hitter manager Joe Maddon compared to Hall of Famer Paul Molitor.
"Molly really had very little or no movement prior to the pitch, and J’s kind of like that a little bit,” Maddon said. “There’s a little bit going on, but it’s kind of a static approach and he’s been very successful with it.
“I think part of his slow starts are just getting this rhythm and timing mechanism down. You just got to be patient with him, because I know watching him in (batting practice) everything looks really good. It’s just a matter of getting that thing started on time.”
Even if Heyward admitted he might have been pressing a little bit with the new contract – and still had his right wrist taped up on Wednesday afternoon, a lingering issue that can be traced back to early April – he also has a nine-game hitting streak and an on-base percentage hovering around .340.
“I just be myself,” Heyward said. “I know what I can bring on both sides of the baseball. I try and do that every night. If I’m not trying to do that, I’m not trying to help my team win. If I have to do something on the field, I’m going to do it, (whether) it’s taking an extra base or stealing (it) or playing defense or being a cheerleader in the dugout.
“We’re going to have ups and downs with hitting. It’s always going to happen.”
Heyward’s grinding approach to offense may never match quite his highlight-reel defense or the enormous expectations that followed him while coming up with the Atlanta Braves as Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect heading into the 2010 season. But this is also a self-aware self-starter who’s still only 26 years old.
“Timing, for me, is everything,” Heyward said. “Being on time at the plate helps you make better decisions, helps you get off better swings and gives yourself more chances to hit the ball hard.
“That’s something that I’ve always gotten better with as time goes (on). Understanding yourself is a big part of getting out of a slump or controlling slumps or minimizing them. Injuries (also) happen. But there’s no excuse. It’s just a part of the game. You can deal with it. You go out there every day with what you have and give it your best.”