Cubs fans tired of watching Jason Heyward make soft contact can only hope the $184 million outfielder will find a way out of this season-long offensive spiral. Joe Maddon ultimately controls the lineup card, and the manager has no interest in benching Heyward, seeing him as the type of player who still does the little things so well.
In terms of actual value, it might not add up to the biggest contract in franchise history, but Heyward can help the Cubs win 3-2, 2-1 playoffs games with his Gold Glove defense, intelligent, aggressive approach to running the bases and the patience to drive up pitch counts and knock out an opposing starter.
“He’d be the first one to tell you he’s not happy with his offensive output,” Maddon said. “But if you’re standing in the dugout — and if you don’t know anything else about (his) batting average — you look at our record and you look at him in right field. I can’t be more comfortable with this guy (out there) while we’re playing baseball.
“He’s such a good baseball player. He’s such a great teammate, (plus) all the things he does that I believe are really important to victory, to a winning attitude, a winning team.”
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Heyward — who’s batting .225 with a .617 OPS that ranked 153rd out of the 155 qualified hitters in the majors — got a breather on Thursday afternoon as Ben Zobrist started in right field against the Milwaukee Brewers before the Cubs headed out on a three-city trip through the National League West.
As someone who built a reputation for grinding out at-bats, Heyward has as many walks (five) as extra-base hits since the All-Star break. The Cubs can’t bank on an age-27 power surge anymore, either, because Heyward has homered once since June 11.
Almost any other manager would be ridiculed by The Geek Department for saying things like this, but Maddon genuinely believes in Heyward’s intangibles and what that might mean in October.
“We’ll continue to work through all these moments,” Maddon said. “I do believe there’s going to be a tremendous reward at the end of all this, for him and for us. I know it’s difficult, outside looking in, but our record’s pretty good and he’s been on the field for most of those games. He’s a winner. He’s an absolute winner.”