Want to know what Jason Heyward thinks about his hitting a week into the season compared to his career-worst season at the plate last year?
Should’ve asked him weeks ago.
Because right now, he said, “I’m up there not thinking a whole lot.”
That might be the best thing the Cubs have heard from their $184 million outfielder since he began his offensive overhaul barely a week or so after the last piece of confetti fell on Grant Park.
“He knows we support him,” manager Joe Maddon said, adding his message to the big lefty is simple: “You look really good, just keep trusting what you’re doing. I think it’s outstanding.”
After a Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee that included a two-run triple and run-scoring single — and it took two diving plays and a leap at the center-field wall to prevent a five-hit game — Heyward entered the Cubs’ opening homestand 7-for-21 with a walk and a hit-by-pitch.
He also had a five-game hitting streak (he sat out a game during the six-game trip to St. Louis and Milwaukee) going into Monday.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive in the strike zone,” Heyward said, “look for opportunities to put good swings on the ball consistently and see what happens after that.”
He’s more relaxed these days, he said, and part of that is where the non-thinking comes in. All the brain work on the swing has been thought and rethought before the season began.
“I’m just really trying to focus on what the pitcher’s going to do, how they’re going to attack you, that kind of stuff,” he said. “Not thinking about the swing or anything like that, which is where you need to be as a hitter: go up there and do that and just try to be aggressive in the strike zone but be on time, relax and go up there one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time . . . try to hit it hard and see what happens.”
Maddon said he likes what he sees and just wants to keep watching it play out.
“I like where his hands are positioned; I like that his hands are more involved right now,” said Maddon, a former hitting coach. “He’s getting started sooner. He’s staying through the ball longer. I’ve seen natural progression from the beginning of camp, where I liked the setup to begin with. I thought it was entirely different than what I’d seen in the past, but I also wanted him to be patient with it.
“You’re not going to see results overnight. Everybody wants to pour water on something and have it turn into what they want. It doesn’t work that way.”
NOTES: Joe Maddon batted his pitcher ninth Monday for the first time this season. The reason: It also was the first time the Cubs faced a lefty starter, and Maddon said he didn’t like how the bottom of his lineup looked feeding into lefty leadoff man Kyle Schwarber with Jon Lester in the eighth spot.
◆ As he did for the season opener, Maddon used the eight position players for the home opener who returned from Game 7 of the World Series.
“This is all about the heartbeat,” he said. “We’re keeping math out of the lineup.”
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