Jason Heyward didn’t dispute the idea he might be pressing, trying to do too much, the same way Jon Lester felt the weight of the richest contract in franchise history during his first season with the Cubs.
“You could say it’s a little bit of all of the above,” Heyward said during the middle of Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field.
Beyond the eight-year, $184 megadeal, Heyward developed a nagging right wrist issue in early April that may or may not have sapped some of his power (zero homers through his first 131 plate appearances).
Heyward’s 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame and high-maintenance swing also take time to get into a rhythm. His adjustment period with the St. Louis Cardinals last April (.611 OPS) didn’t stop him from finishing with another superb all-around season (.293 average, 13 homers, 23 stolen bases and his third Gold Glove in right field).
“To be honest, I think I was doing the same thing at the same time last year,” Heyward said. “I’ve been a slow starter. I’ve done that before and bounced back. When you look back, nobody’s thinking about April or May.”
Lester survived a rough April (6.23 ERA) and the yips to make 32 starts and post 205 innings for a 97-win team, finishing with a misleading 11-12 record, a 3.34 ERA and 207 strikeouts. The Cubs got very good returns in the first season of a six-year, $155 million contract and Lester still looks visibly more comfortable now.
Heyward signed here as a supporting player and has been able to blend into the background more than Lester. Heyward picking Chicago’s young core over The Cardinal Way didn’t carry the same symbolism as Lester’s decision to join a last-place team.
“Handling failure is part of the game,” said Heyward, who still plays outstanding defense, runs the bases with heads-up aggression and makes pitchers work near the top of the order. “I just want to help my team – just like everybody (else) in here.
“That’s what’s made us so successful so far. I’ve been hitting some balls hard, I’m having some good ABs and they’ve been going at people. But I don’t really care (about) my numbers, per se. I just care about trying to help the team.”
The Cubs still reeled off the best start since the 1984 Detroit Tigers team that won a World Series title. Imagine what this would look like if Heyward hadn’t been hitting .212 with a .572 OPS.
“I think he’s going to turn around really soon,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just a matter of time. He’s gone through this before. His work is impeccable. He’s really good. So it will catch up.”