For the first time since he joined the Cubs, Jason Heyward's name was somewhere besides the first two spots in Joe Maddon's batting order Monday.
Heyward hit sixth against the Cincinnati Reds on the Fourth of July, dropped in the lineup as he continues to struggle at the plate in his first season with the Cubs.
"With Jason, just thought give him a little bit of a break out of that two-hole and just see if we can get him going in the right direction on a more consistent basis," Maddon said before the game. "Again, he’s hitting into a lot of bad luck. But just to rearrange the deck chairs a little bit, see if it plays."
Heyward had a .231/.321/.320 slash line entering Monday's game, the start of the official second half (Game No. 82) and the first of the final week before the All-Star break. While the Cubs are still waiting for Heyward to start hitting like the guy who demanded a $184 million contract this offseason, Heyward's still not sweating his lack of production and wasn't bothered in any way about his new spot in the batting order.
"I don’t really care how I feel like it’s going. I just want to do what I can to help the team win," Heyward said. "Keep going up there and trying to put up good at-bats, keep trying to hit the ball hard and get on base. That’s the big thing. Let the game come to me. In a different position in the lineup, maybe other things I’m able to do, other opportunities with people on base and in scoring position and things like that more often than the two-hole. Just let the game come to me."
This latest lineup permutation by Maddon was billed as a trial run. With just one week remaining prior to the All-Star break — a week that might or might not feature the return of leadoff guy Dexter Fowler, who has thrown the Cubs' lineup out of whack with his injury-induced absence — Maddon wants to see if Heyward can get jumpstarted.
"It’s a nice thing, a week before the All-Star break, you can look at it now, evaluate it," Maddon said. "We have a couple days off after that, everybody gets a chance to look at it, think about it. Hopefully we’re going to get some guys well, too, i.e. Dex in center. It will look different when we come back, so just get a feel for it right now based on all the different players that are available right now."
Heyward wasn't the world's fastest starter last season, either. Through the Cardinals' first 81 games a year ago, Heyward had a .281/.331/.439 slash line with 78 hits, 17 doubles, nine homers and 29 RBIs. Of course, that's still significantly better than this year's numbers. In addition to the .231/.321/.320 slash line, Heyward has 65 hits, 13 doubles, four homers and 26 RBIs over the Cubs' first 81 this season. He had only 53 strikeouts through 81 contests for the Cardinals last season compared to 61 this season with the Cubs.
But Heyward isn't big on comparing last year to this year. Or any year, for that matter.
"I’m not comparing previous years to now or whatever. It is what it is," Heyward said. "I’ve had years where I’ve struck out more and hit more home runs. That’s a part of the game. Position in the lineup, at times, who you’re hitting around — whatever it is, you can look at a whole bunch of things. But just situational hitting is going to be a big part of what can happen in a different spot in the lineup."
Heyward is hardly the only concern for the Cubs right now. They returned to the North Side on Independence Day following the conclusion of a woeful road trip that extended a rough stretch to 10 loss in 14 games.
But Heyward is perhaps emblematic of how a team with sky-high preseason expectations hasn't punched its World Series ticket quite yet.
"I’m not surprised by anything in the game," Heyward said. "You don’t expect one thing or the other, you expect to work hard, you expect to go out there every day and give it your best and that’s it. That’s all you can control. Off the field, you practice, you work. It’s like that.
"This year, I’ve faced some more people that I haven’t faced in the past, pitching-wise. That’s just an adjustment. That’s no excuse, it’s just an adjustment, getting familiar with guys and people you’re going to see. That might just be a coincidence or what have you, but I’m not surprised one way or the other that things are going how they’re going.
"I want to help my team win, so that’s the bottom line, what I’m trying to do every night. So every time you don’t do that, in this clubhouse we feel like we’re frustrated if we don’t help our team win."